England aren’t great, but it could be worse: they could be France

On Friday night, England did not set the world alight.

Experimental though the formation might have been, Roy Hodgson’s men were brutally exposed by Chile and did nothing to dismiss the feeling that while they might be more than good enough to dispose of the likes of Montenegro and Poland, they will struggle against more accomplished teams.

In these circumstances, 90 minutes against Germany tomorrow night hardly represents the sort of test England fans can look forward to with oozing confidence. Things, however, could be much, much worse.

While Steven Gerrard and Marco Reus will go toe-to-toe but not quite literally, in the unique way proper of professional footballers involved in friendly games, France will take the pitch against Ukraine knowing that bar a minor sporting miracle, they will miss out on the World Cup.

Obviously Roy Hodgson should strive to improve his team ahead of next summer, rather than casting belittling glances towards Paris, but France are interesting case study at international level.

Should Les Blues fail to overturn Friday’s 2-0 defeat, they’d miss out on a major tournament since 1994 when, needing a point from the final two games against Israel and Bulgaria, France conspired to lose both of them on their own turf.

And yet, when one compares the two squads, it is France who have marginally more quality in the team.

In Franck Ribery France have the sort of world class player England are solely lacking, while Joe Hart and Hugo Lloris are both outstanding keepers and, with all due respect to Laurent Koscielny and Gary Cahill, neither team has an impenetrable defence.

Crucially, France have a much better tradition when it comes to develop youngsters – if the choice was between Paul Pogba and Jack Wilshere, to name but two, it’d be hard to look past the Juventus’ midfielder – while the Clarefointaine centre is a model of excellence St. George’s Park has been shaped upon and built to emulate.

Furthermore, unlike England, France have a manager who was an integral part of the national team during his playing career and who, in stark contrast with Roy Hodgson, isn’t afraid to speak his mind in public.

The Premier League might dwarf Ligue 1 in terms of interest, quality and financial revenue but, ironically, many of the factors contributing to its bigger exposure – the influx of foreign players and a more “European” approach – are often blamed for England’s failure on the international stage.

Since 2006, when they lost the World Cup final against Italy, France’s performances have progressively got worse, reaching a nadir of spectacular proportions in South Africa three years ago, when the many of the players entertained the idea of a mutiny and the team picked up just one point.

Last year’s European Championship was only marginally better, as France were knocked out by eventual winners Spain, before tempers flared again and Samir Nasri was guilty of abusing a journalist.

It’s rather obvious that France’s woes, however amusing many on British shores might find them, will do very little to improve England’s chances or success, nor will they ensure the radical changes English football still crave will happen overnight.

However, as Adam Lallana, James Rodriguez and Ross Barkley take the first steps into their England career and the Three Lions have secured a ticket to Brazil in solid, if unspectacular fashion, for once English football can look across the channel without smugness nor an inferiority complex.

That, in itself, is a major achievement.

 

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