France to count on team spirit

Antoine Griezmann (centre) celebrates scoring France's first goal against the Netherlands on Aug 31 last year with Olivier Giroud (left) and Kingsley Coman. Former France and Bayern Munich left-back Bixente Lizarazu backs Les Bleus to at least reach
Antoine Griezmann (centre) celebrates scoring France's first goal against the Netherlands on Aug 31 last year with Olivier Giroud (left) and Kingsley Coman. Former France and Bayern Munich left-back Bixente Lizarazu backs Les Bleus to at least reach the semi-finals of this year's World Cup in Russia.PHOTO: REUTERS

Collective mental strength is vital at World Cup if they are to repeat their 1998 success, says Lizarazu

The France football team have a history of infighting and Bixente Lizarazu has warned his compatriots that they will not secure a second World Cup title without team spirit.

With Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial and Kylian Mbappe in their attacking ranks alone, Les Bleus are set to boast one of the deepest squads at the June 14-July 15 World Cup in Russia.

But Lizarazu, the first-choice left-back of the side that lifted the World Cup on home soil in 1998, said that individual talent alone will not be enough to win football's biggest prize.

The former Bayern Munich defender told The Straits Times at the German Bundesliga's headquarters in Duxton Hill yesterday: "I really have to say the whole team... It can never be one player. In 1998, so many players made the difference for us.

"Against Paraguay (in the last-16 match), it was Laurent Blanc with the golden goal. Against Croatia (in the semi-finals), Lilian Thuram (with two goals). And in the final against Brazil, of course, Zinedine Zidane with his two goals as well.

"Of course, we had the technical quality of players like (Youri) Djorkaeff and Zidane. But our strength, really, lay in our collective, our mental strength and our team spirit. That's what you need to be successful at the World Cup."

France followed up their success in 1998 with a European Championship triumph two years later. But they have not lifted another major international trophy since.

FOUNDATION FOR SUCCESS

There is a very big difference between having a big character, and a big mouth. In every team, you need big characters on the field. In the 1998 team, we had a lot of big characters, but not big mouths.

BIXENTE LIZARAZU, a member of France's 1998 Cup-winning team.

They reached the final of the 2006 World Cup, but were undone by Zidane's infamous headbutt on Italian defender Marco Materazzi.

And in 2016, they reached the final of the European Championship on home soil, only to be beaten in the final by Portugal.

The nadir for France came at the 2010 World Cup, where the squad refused to train after an altercation between captain Patrice Evra and a member of the coaching staff. The team were eliminated from the group stage after defeats by South Africa (2-1) and Mexico (2-0), and a goal-less draw with Uruguay.

French implosions have been regular occurrences leading up to and during major tournaments. In recent years, Samir Nasri, Nicolas Anelka and Karim Benzema have all been embroiled in controversies.

When asked if outspoken players could affect team harmony again and derail France's hopes at the upcoming World Cup, Lizarazu said: "There is a very big difference between having a big character, and a big mouth. In every team, you need big characters on the field. In the 1998 team, we had a lot of big characters, but not big mouths.

"So it depends, because there are different ways to be a leader. The team made mistakes in 2010, but the situation is better now."

The 48-year-old, in town for the Bayern Youth Cup taking place this weekend at Our Tampines Hub, backed France to at least make the semi-finals in Russia alongside Brazil, defending champions Germany and Spain.

"When you are in the semi-final, with a little luck, you can reach the final, and go on to win the tournament," he added. "It's not easy, it's a lot of competition. But for sure, it is a possibility."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2018, with the headline 'France to count on team spirit'. Print Edition | Subscribe