|France’s Remy Cabella during a training session. (AFP)
Salvador: Since 1998, the erratic French soccer team has either reached the final or failed to win a game at the World Cup.
So now, after a clinical 3-0 defeat of Honduras, fans of Les Bleus could be daring to dream again as France take on neighbours Switzerland in the second Group E game, on Friday.
The dominant display against Honduras on Sunday featured a resurgence of flair and free-flowing football that was non-existent in a disastrous campaign in South Africa in 2010.
Four years ago the players mutinied against coach Raymond Domenech and returned home in disgrace. But Didier Deschamps has built a more unified squad and even though Franck Ribery is out injured, Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba and Olivier Giroud offer a dangerous attacking threat.
The Swiss, who grabbed a last-gasp 2-1 win over Ecuador in their first game, are likely to provide a sterner test, especially as the winner on Friday should make the second round.
With World Cup goals flying in across Brazil and Benzema looking in fine fettle, fans descending on Salvador’s Fonte Nova arena might well expect another goal fest, although a quick look at recent encounters suggests otherwise.
The last three matches between the two countries have ended in draws with a total of only two goals. France won the two games prior to that and Switzerland have to go back to 1992 for their last win.
But the Swiss have made great strides in recent years, their prospects boosted by a more exciting crop of players largely playing in Europe’s top leagues, such as hard tackling captain Gokhan Inler and the skilful Xherdan Shaqiri.
Deschamps is unlikely to tinker much with his side, with the same back four of Mathieu Debuchy, Raphael Varane, Mamadou Sakho and Patrice Evra likely to start. His big decision will come on the left of midfield.
Antoine Griezmann started against Honduras with the excellent Benzema up front, but Deschamps could be tempted to move Benzema out to the left and bring in Giroud up front to add more height and power to the side.
Whoever gets the nod will have an eye on the history books, since the next goal will be France’s 100th at a World Cup.
Haris Seferovic, Switzerland’s hero in the first match after grabbing a 93rd minute winner, said France’s attacking talents could be their downfall.
“There will surely be more space (than versus Ecuador) because the French like to play more. They are strong in attack, but it may be their weakness to want to attack too much,” he said.
Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, who like Deschamps has a target of reaching the last 16 in Brazil, must decide whether to shuffle his front line after substitute forwards Admir Mehmedi and Seferovic grabbed both their goals against Ecuador.
The pair are vying to start in place of Josip Drmic.
Sixth-placed Switzerland are 11 places higher than the French according to Fifa’s rankings, but insist those standings mean nothing.
“Favourites? You like that word in France, eh?,” Swiss central defender Steve von Bergen said.
“It is France who are the favourites.”
France only squeezed into the World Cup finals by narrowly defeating Ukraine in a play-off. On Friday, they would need to do better.