[FRANCE] France, which hosts the United States on Friday at the Stade de France (TV: ESPN2, ESPN3, Univision, Univision.com, 3 pm ET), kept alive its streak of
having qualified for every championship it has entered since its spectacular collapse cost it a berth at the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
Following its poor showing at the 2010 World Cup, former Bleus star Laurent Blanc took over as national team coach and led it to wins over such teams as England (at Wembley) and Brazil and Euro 2010 co-hosts Ukraine and Poland (both on the road), but the Bleus are far from the finished product.
As it showed in its decisive Euro 2012 qualifier against Bosnia, France remains quite workmanlike, depending on the individual talent of players like Samir Nasri (who'll miss Friday's game) and Karim Benzema rather than the skill and intelligence of the great Michel Platini teams of the late 1970s and 1980s and the teams that won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.
For much of final Euro 2012 qualifier, Bosnia was the better team, and France only qualified because Nasri won a penalty that he converted to give the Bleus a 1-1 tie that was enough to win their group and extend their unbeaten streak to 15 games.
Still, the support of French fans has been lukewarm.
Benzema, who didn't travel to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, deplored the lack of support in an interview with the French magazine So Foot, saying, "Even at the Stade de France, we sometimes feel like we're playing away. There's no atmosphere."
As for his own situation, Benzema said, "If I score, I'm French, but if I don't or if there are problems, I am Arab." He went on to point that not only is he French-born but so are his parents.
Blanc acknowledges that it will take time for the Bleus to win back the support of their fans. "The scar will always be there," he said recently.
"After what happened in June 2010, we said that we needed to rediscover a bit of humility," Blanc told the sports daily L'Equipe. "Let's not look too far ahead. We are not going to the Euros to do anything. Let's just wait and see what the draw brings."
"Progress has not been as quick as we hoped. But we have come a long way, a very long way. We need to be more consistent. Certain nations can afford to do without three or four key players, not us.
"People need to try to analyze things a little more closely. They want us to put together a team of great players in 15 months and play at the same level as the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. That is impossible!"
It is still early in the rebuilding process, and Blanc's Bleus are quite young.
Goalie Hugo Lloris is 24, Nasri is 24, Benzema is 23, and Yann M'Vila, France's best young midfielder, is 21.
Nasri and Benzema are part of a group of young French stars along with Newcastle's Hatem Ben Arfa and Paris St. Germain's Jeremy Menez dubbed "Generation 1987" that won the 2004 UEFA U-17 title and was supposed to be the next generation of French superstars.
Nasri and Benzema both played at Euro 2008 but then-national team coach Raymond Domenech didn't pick them for the 2010 World Cup.
Benzema has played better under Blanc than has Nasri, who has been the target of the French media, criticized for his egotistical streak.
Blanc has 11 players in camp who have fewer than 10 caps.
Midfielder Yohan Cabaye (whose availability for Friday's game is in doubt because of a groin injury) has played so well since his move to Newcastle from French champion Lille that Manchester United is rumored to be interested in him.
Defender Mamadou Sakho is only 21 but already has 108 Ligue 1 appearances for PSG.
But none of France's young players has generated the excitement that was produced by Platini (who scored on a free kick for France in his debut in 1976) or Zinedine Zidane (who scored two goals in five minutes in his international debut a decade later).
Blanc said earlier in the week he'll use the U.S. match to take a look at some of his inexperienced players. His orders: "ease off the gas," i.e. play with more control than they've shown in recent games.
If they play well, Blanc said he'll give them another start against Belgium on Tuesday.
Goalkeepers: Cedric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille)
Defenders: Eric Abidal (Barcelona), Mathieu Debuchy (Lille), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Jeremy Mathieu (Valencia), Adil Rami (Valencia), Anthony Reveillere (Lyon), Mamadou Sakho (Paris SG).
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle), Alou Diarra (Marseille), *Maxime Gonalons (Lyon), Yann M'Vila (Rennes), Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Marvin Martin (Sochaux).
Forwards: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kevin Gameiro (Paris SG), Olivier Giroud (Montpellier), Jeremy Menez (Paris SG), Loic Remy (Marseille), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich).
*Replaced Samir Nasri.