For a moment, take yourself back to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The French national team has imploded. Players have been kicked off the team, and the lone point from group play was a 0-0 draw with Uruguay. Mexico blanks Les Bleus 2-0 before South Africa picks up a 2-1 win via a pair of first half goals. Coach Raymond Domenech won’t shake hands with South Africa’s coach after the once shining power fails to advance out of the group stage of a major tournament for the second-straight time (EURO 2008). Oh, and they only got to the World Cup courtesy a pair of Thierry Henry handballs against Ireland leading to a William Gallas goal.
[ MATCH RECAP: France 2-0 Germany ]
EURO 2012 doesn’t go much better, as France backed into a one-and-done knockout round thanks to a Ukraine loss to England, but Laurent Blanc tried his hand with some young guns. The 2014 World Cup, with Didier Deschamps at the helm, was much better. The manager wasn’t afraid to leave Samir Nasri at home, and France cruised into the quarterfinals where they were respectably defeated by eventual champs Germany.
That built towards this summer’s tournament in France, where as hosts the only question would be how the side would fare after having little meaningful football as a unit before the games began. That was until lunatics attacked France several times, including one attack that halted a match played by this team.
Imagine that feeling, that knowledge that your side was the target in its own country. Contemplate trying to win a football game against another world power, with that fear somewhere inside you.
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Deschamps again played a strong hand in keeping Karim Benzema from the team after the striker’s insidious sex tape scandal against teammate Mathieu Valbuena, but his team didn’t let him down. Despite fans booing striker Olivier Giroud early in the tournament, the side found late heroics twice in the group stage before coming back to beat Ireland and throttling Iceland. Thursday’s 2-0 win over Germany may’ve taken some time to click, but was impressive.
Which brings us to the final on home soil, almost eight full months since the attack on the Bataclan, where — terrifyingly enough — tournament hero Antoine Griezmann’s sister played dead to avoid being killed during the Eagles of Death Metal show, as her brother played soccer across town.
With all respect to Cristiano Ronaldo and a terrific underdog performance from Portugal, it’s hard to imagine France won’t be the favorites both logistically and emotionally. I know I’ll be pulling for Les Bleus come Sunday at 3.