France's head coach Didier Deschamps (R) at training.
France's head coach Didier Deschamps (R) at training.

Will Socceroos face beauties or beasts?

NO ONE does the sublime and the ridiculous together like the French football team, whose history lurches from the grace of Platini and Zidane to grisly episodes of strike action and sex tapes.

The streak of individualism that produced the skills of Thierry Henry and Jean Tigana has all too often also left coaches undermined, teammates at war and the rest of us looking on in disbelief.

The question now is which French team - the beauty or the beasts - will kick off the World Cup on Saturday night against Australia. France coach Didier Deschamp may well be one of those most intrigued by the answer.

One of his recent predecessors, Raymond Domenech, might be able to predict what will happen, using his preferred method of astrology. Either way it will be entertaining, whether for the right or wrong reasons.

France seems to oscillate from triumph to tragedy in a riveting cycle; winning the World Cup in 1998 and coming runners-up in 2006, but not even getting out of their group in 2002 and 2010.

Some of the stumbles have been merely comedic, like Gerard Houllier's side getting to within a point of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup with three games to go, and promptly choking.

France's head coach Didier Deschamps (C) talks to players during a team training session.
France's head coach Didier Deschamps (C) talks to players during a team training session.

But there have been darker episodes too: the shadow of strike action by the players in South Africa eight years ago still lingers.

It was a gobsmacking implosion, like a family turning on itself on Christmas Day.

Domenech took off Nicolas Anelka at half-time of France's second game, only to be insulted so badly that he sent Anelka home from South Africa.

Didier Deschamps and his teammates celebrate their win in the 1998 World Cup final.
Didier Deschamps and his teammates celebrate their win in the 1998 World Cup final.

When the rest of the squad went on strike at training the next day, in solidarity with Anelka, it made for car crash television, particularly when Domenech was forced to read out a statement from the players.

Other episodes have been darker still.

In 2013, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema escaped prosecution over soliciting an underage prostitute named Zahia Dehar after it was ruled that the players were unaware Dehar was a minor at the time.

Benzema meanwhile is still sidelined from the French squad by Deschamp over a lingering scandal involving an alleged attempt to blackmail a teammate of Benzema, Mathieu Valbuena, over an apparent sex tape.

This photo taken in 2013 shows French national football team's head coach Didier Deschamps (L) speaking next to sidelined forward Karim Benzema.
This photo taken in 2013 shows French national football team's head coach Didier Deschamps (L) speaking next to sidelined forward Karim Benzema.

That the police investigation began two and a half years ago illustrates its seriousness, as does the fact that he continues to be ignored by Deschamps despite prolific form for Real Madrid.

Also long discarded is Samir Nasri, suspended for an expletive-laden rant at a journalist in 2012 and ending his international career in a huff two years later (at which point his girlfriend called Deschamps a "shit manager" on Twitter).

The counterpoint to all this has of course been the brilliance along the way too - most of all in winning the 1998 tournament on home soil, but also in other glorious moments like knocking out Italy and Brazil in 1986.

Now 2018 beckons. Which team will it be?



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