Tough, at least on paper

France has a favourable draw, but the moot point is whether it would be able to capitalise on this advantage and turn its fortunes around.

Nothing seems to have worked for France in recent times. Since losing to Italy in the dramatic final of Germany 2006, France has been going downhill with the 4-1 hammering at the hands of the Netherlands in the European Championships two years later being one of its biggest disappointments. Even in the qualifiers France had to struggle before sealing its place for South Africa, thanks to the controversial Thierry Henry handball — which is still talked about — in the return match of the play-offs against Ireland in Paris.

As France makes its 13th World Cup appearance without the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Fabien Barthez, Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram, who have all been an integral part of the nation's golden age in world football not long ago, the emergence of a bunch of talented youngsters has ignited hopes in the minds of the French football fans. They expect the team to come up with another noteworthy performance at the World Cup, much like the Zidane-inspired showing four years ago when France belied all expectations to storm into the final.

On paper, France is a hard nut to crack. For all the travails it has faced in the last couple of years, France could not have asked for a more favourable draw. It has been drawn along with host South Africa, Uruguay and Mexico in Group A.

However, the moot point is whether France would be able to take advantage of the draw and turn around its flagging fortunes. Despite losing some of his steam over the years, the presence of Thierry Henry along with Nicolas Anekla in the frontline should provide the French attack the edge. The forward line will also be served well by Franck Ribery and Andre-Pierre Gignac.

France has a decent bunch of players in midfield in Jeremy Toulanan, Abou Diaby and Yoann Gourcuff though the absence of Lassana Diarra would be felt dearly.

France's defence is likely to be firm led by the old warhorse William Gallas. However, the team seems to have a problem with goalkeeping as neither Hugo Lloris nor Steve Mandanda has big-tournament experience.

The other factor that could see Les Bleus bomb early just as it did in 2002 is its tendency to fall apart against rivals with fast counter-attacks.

Raymond Domenech may be France's longest serving coach, but a look at the French newspapers confirm that he is the most hated man at home. He, however, has a team capable of giving him a memorable farewell. The combative defender who represented his country in eight internationals is likely to make way for Laurent Blanc after the end of the 2010 World Cup.

All said and done, France is a side that others would want to avoid playing in the World Cup. This itself is a credit to the team even if it had to huff and puff its way to South Africa.

THE TEAM GOALKEEPERS

Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille) and Cedric Carrasso (Bordeaux).

DEFENDERS

William Gallas (Arsenal), Eric Abidal (Barcelona), Bakary Sagna (Arsenal), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Gael Clichy (Arsenal), Marc Planus (Bordeaux), Anthony Reveillere (Lyon) and Sebastian Squillaci (Sevilla).

MIDFIELDERS

Abou Diaby (Arsenal), Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Yoann Gourcuff (Bordeaux), Florent Malouda (Chelsea) and Jeremy Toulalan (Lyon).

FORWARDS

Thierry Henry (Barcelona), Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea), Djibril Cisse (Panathinaikos), Andre-Pierre Gignac (Toulouse), Sidney Govou (Lyon), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich) and Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille).

Coach: Raymond Domenech.