What are the expectations for the team?
Zero. After Les Bleus’ 2-0 home defeat against Spain in March, the public are fully aware of the gulf that separates their national team from the world’s best. Most fans would be surprised if France got past the second round.
Is the coach popular?
Ridiculed and reviled, Raymond Domenech is the most unpopular national team manager anywhere ever. The public regard him as a national joke, although no one finds him funny.
Are there any players with unusual hobbies or business interests?
Florent Malouda likes playing the drums. Franck Ribéry has turned practical jokes into an art form. Domenech likes poker, amateur dramatics and remains disturbingly keen on astrology.
Who are the best and worst interviewees?
Thierry Henry boasts a fantastic words-per-minute rate and he’s interesting too. Nicolas Anelka smiles more than most of his team-mates, a fact the English press still consider a legitimate talking point. Hugo Lloris can be dull, but he’s too busy becoming one of the world’s best goalkeepers to practise interview technique.
Is the team likely to have any unusual goal celebrations?
Anelka’s fluttering-hands routine (which meant nothing after all) has disappeared. Bafétimbi Gomis does a cracking panther impression but is unlikely to be selected. There’s a gap in the market.
Are there any personal rivalries in the squad?
Just a few. At Euro 2008, Samir Nasri riled William Gallas by sitting in Thierry Henry’s seat on the bus (surely footballers wouldn’t be that childish?). Marseille winger Hatem Ben Arfa has a habit of annoying team-mates. Karim Benzema famously refused to shake his hand at Lyon, where he also brawled with centre-half Sébastien Squillaci. If Ben Arfa makes the squad, you’ll find the other players outside the team hotel counting to ten.
Have the team recorded a song for the World Cup?
No, but don’t discount a number being adopted once the tournament begins. Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive became the anthem for the 1998 winners, thus confirming the suspicion that the French have no understanding of the importance of song lyrics.
What will the media coverage be like?
The class of 1998 dominate the screens. Christophe Dugarry, France’s most popular pundit, is good-humoured, sharp and honest. Bixente Lizarazu has become a cracking interviewer. Emmanuel Petit plays the outsider, although I’m beginning to think this might be his “thing” to get the work. James Eastham