Wednesday, May 1, 2013

France was on the rise since 1976 and qualifying for the World Cup finals was the obvious sign of it. It was the first appearance at the final stages of major tournament since 1966, so France shared the fate of all teams in the group – years of bitter disappointments and failures. Like Italy and Argentina, France had little known coach – Michel Hidalgo.

Like Bearzot and Menotti, he hadn't been a major star during his playing days, and rather obscure coach after that. At 45, he was older then Menotti and younger then Bearzot, but otherwise he shared their pattern: good understanding of modern tendencies in the game and desire to shape a team in accord with them. Which made him suspect, for he excluded various stars in favour of youngsters. Hidalgo was in better situation than the coaches of Argentina and Italy: the French were not that crazy about football, the country did not have vast pool of stars, the bulk of criticism was spent on his predecessor Stefan Kovacs, and he was left more or less to work in peace. After all, France never won anything and qualifying for the finals was success. Hidalgo was also blessed with bunch of players still young and rising, growing pretty much along with his shaping of the squad. Hidalgo was appointed head coach in 1976, after working as an assistant coach under Kovacs. To a point, the Romanian started the rebuilding of the French national team, introducing most of the players Hidalgo depended on. It was still unfinished team, still shaping. France was not a favourite, but with Platini already considered among the top European players, it was not to be taken lightly either. Of course, Hidalgo was helped tremendously by Saint Etienne, peaking just at that time – 1975-78 – and providing the bulk of national players, with the added advantage of experience against the deadliest European clubs. Saint Etienne's bunch was complimented by smaller group of Nantes players – Nantes was the second-best French team at the time, also at its prime. Yet, neither club had overwhelming presence in the final selection:

1 GK Dominique Baratelli 26 December 1947 (aged 30) Nice
2 DF Patrick Battiston      12 March 1957 (aged 21)       Metz
3 DF Maxime Bossis        26 June 1955 (aged 22)          Nantes
4 DF Gérard Janvion        21 August 1953 (aged 24)      Saint-Étienne
5 DF François Bracci       3 November 1951 (aged 26)   Marseille
6 DF Christian Lopez       15 March 1953 (aged 25)       Saint-Étienne
7 DF Patrice Rio              15 August 1948 (aged 29)       Nantes
8 DF Marius Trésor          15 January 1950 (aged 28)     Marseille
9 MF Dominique Bathenay 13 February 1954 (aged 24)  Saint-Étienne
10 MF Jean-Marc Guillou   20 December 1945 (aged 32) Nice
11 MF Henri Michel          28 October 1947 (aged 30)    Nantes
12 MF Claude Papi           16 April 1949 (aged 29)         Bastia
13 MF Jean Petit               25 September 1949 (aged 28) AS Monaco
14 FW Marc Berdoll         6 April 1953 (aged 25)            Marseille
15 MF Michel Platini         21 June 1955 (aged 22)          Nancy
16 FW Christian Dalger     19 December 1949 (aged 28) AS Monaco
17 FW Bernard Lacombe 15 August 1952 (aged 25)       Lyon
18 FW Dominique Rocheteau 14 January 1955 (aged 23) Saint-Étienne
19 FW Didier Six               21 August 1954 (aged 23)      Lens
20 FW Olivier Rouyer        1 December 1955 (aged 22)   Nancy
21 GK Jean-Paul Bertrand-Demanes 23 May 1952 (aged 26) Nantes
22 GK Dominique Dropsy  9 December 1951 (aged 26)   Strasbourg

Top, from left: Rey, Bertrand-Demanes, Baratelli.
Middle row: Bourrier (assistant coach), Bathenay, Papi, Bossis, Janvion, Battiston, Rio, Lopez, Trésor, Bracci, Guillou, Hidalgo (coach).
First row: Platini, Six, Rocheteau, Lacombe, Berdoll, Rouyer, Petit, Michel, Dalger.

One player is missing here – the third goalkeeper Dropsy. Rey was left out seemingly at the last minute, for this photo was supposed to be the official one of the final French World Cup team.

Quite young squad, but with experience and lots of potential. Two fairly equal and experienced goalkeepers, very solid defense, led by Marius Tresor, already a veteran national team player, reaching his prime and still with at least 5 years to play top level football. Janvion and Lopez were younger, but also in top form. And the reserves were more than promising. The midfield was particularly rich, even a problem, for it was difficult to chose – three playmakers is a rare luxury. Actually, they were four – Jean-Michel Larque was the unlucky player left out of the team. Platini was already untouchable regular, able to play more attacking part and leaving the gritty midfield work to others. But how to really chose between Henri Michel and Lean-Marc Guillou – both excellent organizers, both in top form... and somewhat similar. The only problem was attack – very talented, but inefficient players there. Specifically, the French strikers missed scoring opportunities – all of them. Dominique Rocheteau, explosive and technical winger was by far the most versatile and dangerous French attacker, capable to play on both left and right wing, and not afraid to go into the centre either, but he was the prime offender (along with his teammate Patrick Revelli, who was left out of the squad) – he rarely scored, often missing the right moment and making an extra move instead, which helped the opposition to block him. Rocheteau was also somewhat moody player – sometimes he was fantastic, but if a capable defender managed to stop him a few times, it was over for him. Didier Six was often chosen instead of Rocheteau, but he was not great scorer either. Not was Lacombe. Hidalgo had to change and rotate his strikers often – unstable line, and a liability too, for no matter who played, always someone was not equal to the others and collectively they missed almost every scoring opportunity. This was painful, for France was dedicated to open attacking football, which means goals – and goals were not coming. There was tiny something missing yet in Hidalgo's squad – it was not polished to perfection, the coach was still searching the best combinations, it was still a team in building, climbing, but still far from its peak.