World Cup Features
France nothing without Zidane
By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Zinedine Zidane's legend grows larger with every France loss, or scoreless draw.

Since Zidane's memorable exit from international soccer four years ago, France has done absolutely nothing in major tournaments,

After a 0-0 draw against Uruguay and a 2-0 loss to Mexico, the team remains without a goal in the 2010 World Cup, a far cry from their usual standing with Zidane on the pitch.

Zidane guided France to its first World Cup crown in 1998, the Euro 2000 title and to second-place in the 2006 World Cup, his final competition before retiring at the age of 34. France lost the 2006 final to Italy on penalties, after Zidane's memorable ejection for head-butting Marco Materazzi.

France got a little glimpse of life without Zidane, one of the best players of his generation, eight years ago when a thigh injury sidelined the instrumental midfielder and three-time FIFA Player of the Year for two matches of the 2002 World Cup.

France dropped its 2002 World Cup opener to Senegal 1-0, was held to a 0-0 tie by Uruguay in the second match, and not even Zidane - who was still struggling with the injury - could resuscitate the team in a 2-0 defeat to Denmark in the last group match.

The favored French exited the tournament without a goal, in what turned out to be a prelude to a Zidane-less future.

France exited Euro 2008 after similar results, scoring just one measly goal in three matches, that coming in a 4-1 defeat to the Netherlands. France settled for a 0-0 draw against Romania and lost to Italy 2-0 in its other matches.

The current chapter of the nightmare prompted French captain Patrice Evra to admit that it was important for the team to "salvage our pride against South Africa."

Considering France is winless in its last seven games in major tournaments and has scored just one goal in that stretch without Zidane, that's hardly much of a consolation.

Although France has not been officially eliminated, coach Raymond Domenech was correct when he said "our qualification now depends on a miracle."

France has to beat South Africa on Tuesday - which will be hard to do since it can't score - hope Mexico and Uruguay don't draw, and make up goal difference. Otherwise, France can forget about the knockout round, and can count on being held up as one of the 2010 World Cup's biggest disappointments.

Domenech still has a wealth of talent, including Nicolas Anelka, Evra, Florent Malouda, Franck Ribery, Yoann Gourcuff and Sidney Govou, but admitted "there's something not quite right."

"We're not a great team out on the pitch," Evra said.

The problems were obvious before the tournament, when Thierry Henry's handball set up the winning goal in a playoff against Ireland just to get France to the World Cup. Then an underage sex scandal involving Ribery followed.

France rarely plays as a team, and it is obvious Domenech - who will step down after the tournament - has little influence on the squad. Players who star for club teams around Europe have not united when wearing the French jersey, and nobody has stepped up to fill the void left by Zidane's retirement.

Ribery was touted as the next Zidane in 2006 but he has certainly not lived up to such a lofty comparison for France, although he has had his moments on both the international and club levels.

A play midway through the second half epitomized France's struggles, as a pass bounced off the back of an unsuspecting Ribery to stop a promising attack. And with France desperate to score when down one goal to Mexico, Domenech's roster and substitute choices were brought to the forefront.

Domenech left promising young striker Karim Benzema off the World Cup team and used Andre-Pierre Gignac and Mathieu Valbuena off the bench against Mexico, as Henry remained on the bench wearing a heavy jacket and covered with a blanket.

"I definitely blame myself for certain things, but for now I'm keeping them to myself," Domenech said.

France's Jeremy Toulalan said the effort against Mexico was a "failure for the whole squad." The French lost to the Mexicans for the first time in seven all- time meetings.

"This is a huge catastrophe," Evra added.

No, France, it's just life without Zidane.