My aim? To reach the final says France coach

26th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 25, 2006 (AFP) - As sporting disasters go they don't come much bigger than France's misadventure in Asia at the 2002 World Cup.

PARIS, May 25, 2006 (AFP) -  As sporting disasters go they don't come much bigger than France's misadventure in Asia at the 2002 World Cup.

The defending champions, under the stewardship of Roger Lemerre, travelled to South Korea and Japan as one of the tournament favourites having added the 2000 European title to their 1998 world crown.

Senegal were the first to jolt the air of confidence around the Gallic camp, the tournament debutants inflicting a stunning 1-0 win over their former colonial masters.

A goalless draw against Uruguay and a 2-0 loss to Denmark put paid to France's title defence in the most crushing of manners.

The Blues returned home under a halo of humiliation as the worst club in their group with not even a single goal to their name - a first in the history of the competition.

They were the first reigning titleholders not to advance from the first round since Brazil in 1966.

Theories for the collapse abounded, focusing on the injury to Zinedine Zidane, who made a belated appearance in France's last game against the Danes, and an ineffective old guard.

Raymond Domenech was handed the task of reconstructing France from the ashes of Asia and the relative failure under his predecessor Jacques Santini at Euro 2004.

But an indifferent 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign in which France only sealed top spot in an eminently winnable group on the final day has hardly helped fuel the flames of expectation for Germany.

Domenech though believes his side have one crucial advantage over Lemerre's class of 2002.

"From what we've heard from the veterans of the 2002 World Cup they turned up there with their brains 'cooked'," Domenech said. "They were jaded and it's that scenario which we have to avoid this time around.

"The most important thing is mental freshness. The players must have at least a week's break from football. If they're good in their heads then the preparation's been a success."

To this end Domenech packed his players off on a week's holiday before a pre-World Cup training camp in the French Alps with the following advice ringing in their ears:

"Turn off the television and the telephone, go away with your family, go to a country where you don't speak the language so that no one can talk to you about football - deepest Asia, the far reaches of China, or a forgotten island."

He added with a grin: "The United States isn't a bad destination either. They don't know what football is there!"

With a reputation as a disciplinarian and a sharp sense of irony the professorial former French under-21 coach has an uneasy rapport with his national media exacerbated when having announced the squad he refused to answer questions and instead gave his first interview to a mobile phone company that is one of the team's sponsors.

But he knows more than anyone that whether he's hailed as a saviour or sinner will depend not on his prickly image in the press but on bare results.

Asked if his contract stipulated a specific target at the 2006 finals he said: "Since I read my contract the first time I signed it I don't know where I put it. The other day I looked for it but couldn't find it.

"But I don't need a written objective to provide me with pressure - my aim is to get to the final."

Domenech, capped eight times for his country, was appointed France coach on July 12, 2004, the day after the birth of his daughter.

Her name? Victoire - something he is out to achieve in Germany.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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