Despite having a month to prepare for the World Cup, France are still pretty much clueless. Everything from the captaincy (is this really something that should be changed right before the biggest tournament ever?) to the starting lineup is marked with uncertainty. All we really know for sure is that come Friday, Domenech will still have a unibrow and Franck Ribery will be somewhere on the pitch.
That's about it though. I wish I were kidding, but when it comes to Les Bleus, stability is a foreign concept these days.
Lassana Diarra's sudden withdrawal from the World Cup squad was the first sign that things were not going as planned. Diarra was diagnosed with an intestinal disorder that renders him unable to compete, at least for the time being. Though Diarra's absence will be ably deputized by Jeremy Toulalan, Domenech has hinted that Toulalan may play in central defense. That would leave Abou Diaby and Alou Diarra as France's DMs.
Raise your hand if you are comfortable with this. No one? Yeah, I thought so.
The recent warm up matches haven't been very inspiring either. The point of these games was for the team to get into the right physical and mental mindset before the World Cup, but having watched the games, it's safe to say that the friendlies didn't help. In fact, if "meh" were an actual word in the dictionary, it would be found next to a picture of the French National Team.
The results themselves - a 2-1 win over Costa Rica, a 1-1 draw against Tunisia, and a 0-1 loss against China - don't seem that bad on paper. But France beat Costa Rica thanks to an own goal, they had to come from behind to snatch a draw against Tunisia, and they couldn't score at all against China.
The lackluster performances can be partially attributed to France's changed midfield. Whereas before, Domenech stubbornly clung to a setup featuring two defensive midfielders, he's finally decided to shift to a more attacking 4-3-3. Though this change is helping alleviate fears of the dull play that has characterized Les Bleus in recent years, the unfamiliarity of this new formation is resulting in defensive frailties.
The other reason for France's increasingly poor form is due to the latest bout of infighting within the team. To summarize, the senior players are once again demanding to have a say in selection and tactics (did I miss something or did the France NT become a democracy?). Specifically, they are unhappy at Domenech's decision to leave Thierry Henry on the bench. The senior players, who are believed to be Franck Ribery and Nicolas Anelka, want to see Sidney Govou and Yoann Gourcuff dropped for Henry and Abou Diaby.
Naturally, Domenech is ignoring them, which in turn has caused Anelka and Ribery to further fracture the squad by refusing the pass to Gourcuff in practice. This elementary school behavior (no doubt Anelka and Gourcuff now sit at different lunch tables and fight over playground space) is causing serious disharmony among the players, and what little confidence the team had is now withering away on the eve of their first group stage match.
Not that Domenech is entirely blameless. Though he is not responsible for the actions of Anelka and Ribery, his decision to hand over the captaincy of France to Patrice Evra a mere week before the World Cup has many people upset, and with good reason. Though Henry is the team captain, his place on the bench means that it is Gallas who usually wears the armband. Domenech and Gallas don't have the best of relationships, and Gallas has had problems with his teammates in the past. However, it was Domenech's decision to make him vice-captain, and it was also his decision to keep Gallas as vice-captain despite his antics within the squad.
Which is why Domenech's decision to strip Gallas of the captaincy now is baffling. If Domenech didn't want him as captain, this is something he should have dealt with long before, as opposed to a few days before the start of the tournament. Gallas is so upset that he has sworn not to speak with the media until after the World Cup, and given the way things are going, he'll probably stop passing the ball to Evra.
The first group stage match is less than 36 hours away. Can France put their high school drama behind them and focus on their match against Uruguay? Or will be it first round failure once again? I certainly hope it's the former.