France’s Stock on the Up
The 1998 World Cup champions France began the competition as one of the Top 6 favourites, but at +2000 opening odds, they were at the bottom of the pile, behind Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany and Belgium. Essentially, they were the tournament dark horse, contenders but not outright favourites to win the title. Through two rounds of group action, however, odds makers bump Les Bleus up to +900, effectively making them the fourth favourites behind Brazil (+333), Germany and (+350), Argentina (+400) to win the competition proper.
In South Africa, France’s campaign ended in disgrace; not only was it one of their worst showings at a finals but their behaviour was so appalling that the (then) President Nikolas Sarkozy described it as a national disaster which has tarnished France’s image on the international stage. Tantrums, rows between players and coaches; shameful drama on and off the pitch; Anelka’s rants and profanity; and generally disinterested football, which culminated in a 0-1-2 mark in group action, reduced the former champions to a laughing stock around the globe. The reaction of their fans in their last match said it all: all in one, they turned on Les Bleus for their dismal effort and began to cheer on the South Africans instead. Indeed, France couldn’t get out of there soon enough.
They won’t be in a rush out of Brazil anytime soon, though, not if they continue on the verve and swagger with which they’ve begun their campaign through the rounds. The funny thing, France arrived in Brazil on low expectations. They failed to secure automatic advancement out of their UEFA European qualification group when they finished second behind Spain. But they had a second stab at the cherry when they were forced into the playoffs pool. Once again, though, they very nearly failed at that hurdle. Ukraine took the 2-0 lead in the first leg and looked all but through until France reversed the tie in their favour with a 3-0 win in the second leg.
France opened their campaign with a resounding 3-0 victory over Honduras. In the second round, they proved far superior to the Swiss, prompting many to question FIFA rankings that have France listed as the No. 17t outfit and the Swiss as the sixth. Only, if everything were only that simple, handicapping would be a lot easier. But it’s not. Rankings and results aren’t mutually exclusive. The former is just a subjective impression of performance over a period of time in nation’s football life; the latter provides real-time accounts and a sense of current form, which is perhaps the most indicative.
France burst out of the blocks with such intensity and purposes, before the Swiss even knew what hit them they were down 5-0. Credit the Swiss, though, for playing as if they had a hope to turning things around. Many wouldn’t have even bothered with the two late goals. As it were, they played on, held their peckers up and got two past the French keeper to end the match on a more respectable 5-2 score.
Despite France’s strong start, Group E is still a relatively wide-open affair, which just points to the quality of all the teams contained within and how difficult advancing into the R16 remains. Switzerland are favoured along with France at -250 to advance into the R16, a happenstance underscored by the fact they are set to take on Honduras in the final group match, the group’s punching bag so far. World Cup bettors, however, shouldn’t discount Ecuador at +225 either on their soccer picks. The South Americans are level on points with the Swiss, but second in the table on the back of a better goal differential. Granted they do have a tough match against France in the last round, which is a must-win if they hope to secure advancement. Keep in mind, though, like all the South American participants at the finals, Ecuador should enjoy huge crowd support, which could be a factor that swings this match in their way. Honduras are an improbable +2500 World Cup pick to advance into the R16, but surprises have occurred at this World Cup already so perhaps they are more your bill of fare.