I just needed to respond to the most recent post of my esteemed colleague (with which I wholeheartedly agree). I'd also like to take it one step further and state that I believe France will struggle, and ultimately fail, to leave the group stages. A few reasons:
1. I agree when Juan says the best players France have to call on for this tournament are Scarface, Trezegol, and Paddy. Now, it appears they may be without two of those players. Though current reports say it's only for the first match, how much do you want to gamble on a 31 year old just coming back to full fitness? Not that Flamini and Diarra aren't great replacements (you'll never find a bigger fan, still pissed they both left Arsenal), but neither has the big stage experience and leadership qualities of Vieira. Over the last decade, alongside Zidane, no player has been more instrumental to his national team's success. Indeed, he was almost as crucial to their 2006 WC run as the master himself. Whether it was scoring important goals, serving it up on a platter for his teammates, or just generally sacrificing himself for the good of the squad, Paddy is the heartbeat of the team, and if he's not totally healthy, that's a problem.
2. Domenech is retarded. We already know this. But just to reiterate: Willy Sagnol has a lot of experience at right-back, but he's 31, and Sagna, though new to the scene, is faster and has so much to bring to the table offensively. Anelka, but not Trezeguet? Well, the general explanation for this is that Anelka and Henry gel a little better up front, but I don't know why you wouldn't want that option coming off the bench. And anyway, Gomes and Govou but no Trezeguet? Whatever. Pires has been instrumental to Villareal's recent success and has big-time experience, but Domenech ruled him out years ago for astrological/personal reasons, and unfortunately, at his age he'll never play for France again. At any rate, it's clear that Ray Ray was going for a mix of youth and experience in his squad, but I happen to feel he's gotten it wrong, bringing in youth where more experienced and in-form players should have been selected and choosing age where younger, more dynamic choices would have been appropriate. We'll see.
3. Their group is insanely difficult. I'm convinced that Italy's organization and individual talent will see them through. So that leaves one spot. Personally, I think the Netherlands will take it. Though they just lost Babel and had to call on the awful Khalid Boulahrouz (more like BOOlahrouz), they've still got the deepest and most potent attack (along with Italy) in the tournament, able to call on a legendary poacher (Ruud van Nistelrooy), a creator (Arjen Robben), a born scorer (Klaas-Jan Huntelaar), some glass candy (Robin van Persie), and a guy who works really hard and often shows up at the right place and right time, but is otherwise fairly untalented (Dirk Kuyt). Though their biggest question mark is the back line, they've got van der Sar in goal and with General Wesley Sneijder, an improved van der Vaart, and fine wine Gio van Bronckhorst doing big thangs in the midfield, I think they can pip France out of the group.