Being a soccer fan in America, namely the U.S. National Team, often can morph into a study about wishing you were something else. Granted, that mentality has changed a lot in recent years. Given the success in 2013 under Jurgen Klinsmann, it’s mostly positive vibes emanating out of the U.S. camp. There’s also a certain pride exhibited by fans of the National Team. Thank supporters groups like the American Outlaws for turning National Team games on U.S. soil into happenings.
Still, for years many American fans spent their time pining for the USMNT to be some sort of world-beating superteam, which played all its games on hallowed European grounds like Wembley Stadium, the San Siro and the Stade de France.
At the moment, it’s doubtful many U.S. fans would want to trade places with the team which calls the Stade de France home. The French National Team — Les Bleus — face long odds to qualify for the 2014 World Cup after it lost 2-0 last week in the first leg of its World Cup playoff with Ukraine. Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny was sent off with a red card.
It was ugly, so ugly that 84 percent of the French public thinks the team doesn’t have a shot to qualify even with 90 more minutes left to play on Tuesday. American soccer fans can be cynical, but they’re not that cynical.
Something American soccer fans love to complain about is the lack of U.S. players on the rosters of “big clubs” or players in the Champions League. Look at France. Those qualifications haven’t proved to be a magic cure-all. Les Bleus have the presumptive Ballon d’Or winner in Franck Ribery of Bayern Munich. Beyond that they have players at the world’s biggest clubs like striker Karim Benzema at Real Madrid and midfielder Samir Nasri at Manchester City. Most Premier League clubs this season have a France international or two on their rosters, too.
France has always been lauded for its youth development system. This summer it produced an U-20 World Cup victory in Turkey led by Juventus’ rising star Paul Pogba.
When you add it together, you’d think France has the right recipe for international success. Yet success has eluded Les Bleus since their runner-up showing at the 2006 World Cup. It’s no coincidence that’s the same year Zinedine Zidane retired internationally. The next World Cup four years later in South Africa, the team famously quit on coach Raymond Domenech and embarrassed itself very publicly.
In fairness, France got a tough draw in its qualifying group getting lumped with Spain. Only one of the two traditional powers would automatically book a place for Brazil. Spain beat France in Paris back in March, sealing their fate since La Roja finished three points ahead.
Now, thanks to a toothless showing in Ukraine, France is in danger of missing its first World Cup since 1994. There is certainly some delight in this potential, especially in Ireland which lost out to Les Bleus in the 2010 playoffs thanks in no small part to Thierry Henry’s handball which wasn’t called.
So for the contingent of American fans always hoping and wishing for more out of the National Team, remember it could always be a lot worse. Just ask France.