Does France stand a chance post-Zidane?
Yes, of course it does. Mathematically speaking, every one of the participating 32 teams in South Africa stands a chance at lifting the much-coveted trophy.‚ The real question is: Does France stand a likely chance post-Zidane? Unfortunately for me, a France fan, the answer to that question is no.
History gives us a glimpse of why. Some outfits like Germany win on team coherence, others require the presence of "the special one," to use a term made famous by Jose Mourinho. France is one of those teams. Its greatest achievements seem always to have coincided with the presence of a top-three world class player on its roster - a luxury it can no longer boast now that Zidane has retired. France's notable World Cup performances came in 1958, 1982, 1986, 1998, and 2002. In Europe, it was 1984 and 2000, and in the Confederations Cup it was 2001 and 2003. In each and every one of those years, France had a mercurial legend on its hands - only three in total. In 1958, it was Just Fontaine, the man who still holds the record for the most goals scored in a single World Cup, 13. Having thrashed Germany 6-2 in the quarter-finals, France was on track to win the tournament but understandably bowed out to Pele's Brazil. In 1986, France under Michel Platini's leadership took revenge against Brazil in the quarter finals and ended up a respectable third. Two years before that, the supremely-skilled Platini had helped France win the Euro Nation's cup - its first ever major trophy - while two years prior, he had guided France to a fourth place World Cup finish in 1982. Then came the greatest player ever to don the France jersey, the mesmerizing Zinedine Zidane. His career contributions would leave France with accolades, the likes of which it had never reached before. Two headers from Zidane in the 1998 World Cup final at last entered France into the elite club of World Cup winners and‚ Zidane into instant French sainthood. In 2006, the last World Cup, Zidane single-handedly breathed life into an old, sluggish team, dancing the Samba with Brazil in the semi-finals and turning in a second place performance for France. (It could have been a first place performance had it not been for the now infamous Zidane head butt and send off against Italy in the dying moments of the final game.) It was also mostly thanks to Zidane's magical footwork and inspirational leadership that France won the 2000 Euro Nation's Cup and the 2001 and 2003 Confederations Cups. Contrast that with France's recent track record sans a Platini or a Zidane. In the two World Cups of 1990 and 1994 between Platini's retirement and Zidane reaching his prime, France did not even qualify for the finals in Italy and the USA respectively. In 2002 in Japan/South Korea when Zidane could only make a substitute appearance in the last group game due to an injury, the then defending champions famously lost to Senegal in the tournament opener and could not even get past the first round. Then in 2006, ‚ France's rebound coincided with Zidane's return: it's a universal fact that had it not been for Zidane's determination, France would never have gotten as far as it did. But now with Zidane out again, France seems to be back to its struggling ways. It barely qualified for South Africa and did so only thanks to a controversial Thierry Henry sneaky handball in a decisive moment against Ireland infuriating Irish fans and making headlines around the world. So is France on the wrong side of history in South Africa. Clearly so. And yet, astute fans may argue that in football, history is not always right. They may point to the fact that before 1998, France had never won a World Cup. (But then again, history has shown that strong teams stand a good chance of winning the tournament at home.) Sure, it could happen, but it takes a mercurial legend to reverse the curse of history. Which brings us back to square one, France has none. I will say this, if France ever proves me wrong, watch out for Franck Ribery and Nicolas Anelka to be the ones to do it.