Astounding. Another way to read that is that without those megastars and the successes their eras brought, we'd think of France as a middling soccer country with delusions of grandeur — a bit like England.
In rebuilding the national squad that devoured itself and the stock of goodwill that Zidane's generation had accrued, Blanc has done good work. At his first press conference as coach in 2010, Blanc said the hard core of players he felt he could lean on was no larger than "a melon's pip."
It's perhaps melon-sized now. Striker Karim Benzema is an undeniable talent, even though the Real Madrid star leaves Euro 2012 without having scored. His partnership with winger Franck Ribery will produce goals down the road. But the French defense is full of holes like Swiss cheese.
And France's old demons of 2010 — born, essentially, of players' over-inflated egos — still haven't been put completely to rest. At these Euros, Blanc was forced to douse heated arguments in the French dressing room after they lost to Sweden — a defeat that bumped France into Saturday's quarterfinal against Spain, instead of a hoped-for easier encounter with the less daunting Italians.
On his birthday, Zidane was missed more than ever.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester
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