The French media has made an unusual if low-key demand of their team ahead of tonight’s crunch play-off second leg with Ukraine.
With France trailing 2-0 after a shock defeat in Kiev, the onus is on Didier Deschamps’ team to score goals. They were disjointed last Friday, with some feeling France employed negative tactics against Ukraine. With that in mind, a major tactical switch is in order. Karim Benzema is widely expected to be brought back into the starting XI.
You would think this would dominate the news cycle, with France on the brink of failing to qualify for the World Cup.
But most of the papers are not so interested in the match – a wider antagonism towards this generation of players is accompanied by genuine concerns over a shooting incident at the office of national newspaper Liberation.
Also, you must remember that the upper middle classes who dominate French media just aren’t that into football.
As a result, specialist sports magazines and websites are issuing the rallying cries – and, as you’d expect, their coverage is far more reasoned and measured than the newspapers’ previews would be.
"DO IT!!" yells L’Equipe on its front cover, with the eyes of the team glaring out menacingly.
“To 4-3-3 with Benzema!” the sports daily adds inside, signalling an anticipated move from the 4-5-1 that saw Olivier Giroud isolated and Samir Nasri condemned for an ineffectual performance in support.
“Rafael Varane and Mamadou Sakho are both expected to start in defence [Laurent Koscielny is suspended] – but Benzema up front is the big one”, it continues.
“A major switch was needed and they players and system have been changed. Only Lloris, Evra, Pogba and Ribery should retain their places, with Valbuena joining Ribery in support of Benzema as Giroud drops to the bench.”
The reaction has been weighted towards the ‘craziness’ comment, with Eurosport.fr concluding that “Les Blues must show a touch of madness to get to Brazil”.
“Now they have their backs against the wall, what can save France on Tuesday?” asks Laurent Vergne. “The world agrees that France will have to do something special to overcome the odds, and that they must show qualities that we have not seen in them so far.
“Enthusiasm, determination, intensity and a total focus. But they must also show something else – a splash of insanity, a touch of madness. Something unexpected, unpredictable. We cannot climb the mountain with the mediocre.”
Vergne’s colleague Maxime Dupuis adds:
“France are in a hugely compromised situation, and one that resembles Mission (almost) Impossible.
“History and statistics very much count against them. Since the advent of the two-legged play-off system for European qualification, not one team has overhauled a 2-0 first leg deficit to qualify for a World Cup or Euros. There have been five instances, and no-one has yet overcome the odds.
“Going through after a 2-0 first leg loss has happened fairly frequently at club level though – 16.2% of times in European competition – but it doesn’t look good for France.”
There has been some mention of the game in magazines and newspapers that nobody reads, but it is mostly trying to place a social context on impending failure.
You see, it’s “obviously more than a match”, as Jean-Michel Servant wrote in Midi Libre. No, it’s a “representation of the social and economic problems facing France, and the importance of money in football. A ticket to Brazil would be beneficial for our economy”, he adds, overestimating the French love for the game.
Even better, Philippe Waucampt of the Républicain Lorrain launches a withering attack on both the national team and the racists who try to claim that it is underachieving because the sons of immigrants hate France.
“The France team, with its failures and big-headed players, provides an ideal scapegoat for those looking to exorcise their fears. Les Bleus do not even have the basic pride to give a slap in the face to racism”.
Figaro, which people actually do read, adds what the rest of us already knew – that the in-fighting, selfishness and tendency towards inertia of the national team are indeed very French traits.
“This team has no sense of purpose than our political leaders,” Yves Threard opines.
Le Parisien, which people half-read on le Metro while going to see their mistresses, went so far as to ask politicians and celebs how they see the match:
But those actually involved in football are greeting what is widely expected to be failure with a Gallic shrug. The French speakers among you should check out the Twitter hashtag #SiOnSeQualifie, where fans make light of what they will do if the team makes it - and what to do if they don't.
This cheeky image from (I kid you not) a scout for legendary computer game Football Manager gives step-by-step instructions on how to handle failure:
— Romain Scheers (@romainscheers) November 18, 2013
Simple translation: Hold back the tears; Keep distance from social gatherings; Convince yourself that it’s only football; Play games where your team has a chance of qualifying (e.g. FIFA14); Redirect your passion towards NFL; Get a girlfriend; Spare a thought for the other 172 countries who failed to qualify; Invent some Spanish cousins; If that fails, adopt the foetal position and weep.
Which is much more like it.