Countdown to South Africa: Spotlight on the main contenders France

95 days to go

Raymond Domenech is finally leaving after the World Cup but many feel his departure is long overdue with a French parliamentary deputy adding to calls for the coach's immediate removal. The concern evoked by their fortuitous, controversial, qualification was exacerbated by last week's 2-0 home defeat to Spain and questions remain about leadership, tactics and personnel.

France did have several players out against the European champions, notably William Gallas, Eric Abidal and Karim Benzema, but in the past the pool of talent seemed so vast a few absentees mattered little. Either the supply is drying up, or it is being badly handled. Most believe the latter.

France started with Franck Ribéry and Yoann Gourcuff, their most imaginative players, in a 4-4-1-1 formation in Paris, Ribéry on the flank, Gourcuff behind Nicolas Anelka, but created little. The ineffective Thierry Henry, meanwhile, was booed and had to be replaced soon after the hour. The captain admitted afterwards he had no energy in his legs due to his lack of playing time at Barcelona. "I absolutely had no pace," he said. "When you have to run after the ball after having only played one game in the last month and a half it is really tough." Domenech said his lack of games was "becoming a problem" but not yet an "alarming" one.

The coach added: "I don't see this as catastrophic. There was a great team in front of us. We have three months yet." Spain's Vicente del Bosque offered support when he said: "France could have a promising World Cup, they have the individual and collective potential to do it."



France: World Ranking 7

World Cup Group: A (with South Africa, Mexico and Uruguay)

When could they meet England? QF

Odds: 12-1 (Paddy Power)

Pedigree: Winners (1998)

Last five results: Faroe Islands (h) 5-0, Austria (h) 3-1, Rep of Ireland (a) 1-0, Rep of Ireland (h) 1-1 aet, Spain (h) 0-2

Pre-finals fixtures: Costa Rica (h, 26 May), Tunisia (a, 30 May), China (h, 4 June)

One to watch: Yoann Gourcuff (Bordeaux)

Fan file: Passionate but quick to show displeasure if things not going well.

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