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World Cup 2006 profile
France boasts an aging squad, but is still dangerous
Posted: Tuesday January 17, 2006 3:42PM; Updated: Tuesday January 17, 2006 3:42PM


On a team of veterans, 28-year-old Thierry Henry will be expected to carry France on his shoulders.
Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images
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• Full '06 World Cup draw and schedule

By Gabriele Marcotti, SI.com

Over the next four months, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with France. Click here for the full archive.

FIFA world ranking: No. 5.

How they qualified for Germany: Finished first in UEFA Group 4 with a 5-0-5 record. The French struggled at times in a group that included -- among others -- Switzerland, Ireland and Israel.

Previous World Cups: 10 appearances (1930, 1934, 1938, 1954, 1958, 1966, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1998). Champions in '98, third place in '58 and '86, fourth place in '82.

Manager: Raymond Domenech, third year with team (he inherited the job after working with France's under-21 squad for 11 years).

Key players
With 33-year-old captain Zinedine Zidane not getting any younger, Thierry Henry needs to carry this team. The Arsenal striker will have to not just deliver goals, but also provide the creativity in setting up his good friend and fellow striker David Trézéguet, one of the most underrated front men in the game.

Patrick Vieira flopped at Euro 2004, but when he's on top of his game, he is the kind of holding midfielder who can dominate matches, especially with Claude Makelele as his sidekick. Blessed with size, strength and brains, Vieira is enjoying a Renaissance in Serie A after his summer move from Arsenal.

What to watch for
An under-fire Domenech persuaded three golden oldies -- Zidane, Makelele and Lilian Thuram -- to come out of international retirement last summer. That's how desperate things got for France. As a result, what should have been Henry's team is now in Zidane's corpulent shadow, even as the Real midfielder keeps getting less and less consistent with age. Domenech has also had to dismantle his team tactically to find a spot for Zizou, abandoning his favored system, which means there is no space for wings such as Sylvain Wiltord, Florent Malouda and Ludovic Giuly. It's certainly a gamble.

But there is plenty of talent, both in the midfield and up front. There may be some concern at the back, however. Grégory Coupet is solid in goal, but Antoine Réveillère is far better going forward than defending and Thuram is also showing signs of age. Jack-of-all trades William Gallas, who may be one of the top three defenders in the world, will once again be slotted in as needed. He really deserves better.

Group: G (Switzerland, Togo, South Korea).

Key match: June 18 vs. South Korea. To be honest, France's group stage should be cakewalk. But if anyone can create problems in the first round, it's probably the South Koreans' high-tempo style, particularly since too many on this team are the wrong side of 30.

Oddsmakers' line: 12-1.

Tentative Starting Lineup
Pos. Player Club team
G Grégory Coupet Lyon (France)
D Antoine Réveillère Lyon (France)
D Lilian Thuram Juventus (Italy)
D Jean-Alain Boumsong Newcastle United (England)
D William Gallas Chelsea (England)
M Vikash Dhorasoo Paris St. Germain (France)
M Claude Makelele Chelsea (England)
M Patrick Vieira Juventus (Italy)
M Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid (Spain)
F Thierry Henry Arsenal (England)
F David Trézéguet Juventus (Italy)
 
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