France find their way home

Les Bleus return to spiritual home at Parc des Princes in a friendly that could play a part in their World Cup destiny.

    France find their way home
    National coach Didier Deschamps on the pitch where he suffered his worst defeat as a player for France [AFP]

    French football will be back at its spiritual home on Friday night – and there will be more prayers among fans than are usually heard at a friendly match.

    Les Bleus host Australia at the Parc des Princes, the ground where their first home international was played in 1905, and that served as the national stadium until the Stade de France took over before the World Cup win in 1998.  

    For fans and players, it's a welcome return to the ground where Paris Saint Germain's supporters have created one of the best atmospheres in French football.

    And that noise level might be needed as France find themselves in the unusual position of needing a result from a friendly match.

    Their next World Cup qualifier isn't until Tuesday, against Finland.

    But France, who are second behind Spain in Group I, need all the FIFA ranking points they can get from this friendly. Because those points are used to determine the seedings in the playoff rounds at the end of qualifying.

    The higher they can get in the rankings – and right now they are in an incredible 25th place – the more chance they can avoid the better teams at the last hurdle before Brazil 2014.

    Despite that concern, the newspapers on Thursday were full of Le Grand Retour – the big return – to the Parc des Princes.

    "Au Parc comme à la maison" (at the Parc, just like at home) was the headline in Metronews, with former France goalkeeper Lionel Charbonnier telling the paper: "When you go to the Parc, you feel the weight of history right inside the changing rooms.

    "Each stone breathes an ambience that gives you a thrill."

    That history includes Michel Platini firing France to the European Championship trophy in 1984. But some memories are less thrilling.

    It was at the Parc in November 1993 that the France of Eric Cantona, David Ginola and Gérard Houllier lost 2-1 to Bulgaria, when Ginola's unthinking cross led to Bulgaria's late winner and ended France's chance of reaching the World Cup in the United States. Current national coach Didier Deschamps was on the pitch then too.

    The only other international played at the Parc since the Stade de France was built north of Paris saw a James McFadden goal gave Scotland a 1-0 win there in September 2007.

    True home

    One fan who was in the stands that day is PSG supporter Nicolas Samier, 31, who said that the Parc was France's true home regardless of whether they played well there against the Socceroos.

    "The Parc des Princes is built for football," he told Al Jazeera.

    "Stade de France is multi-use – there's lots of space between the stands and pitch, and the roof lets out lots of the noise so you can't hear what the opposite stand is singing.

    "At the Parc des Princes, you have resonance. The noise travels from one side of the stadium to the other, and stays there."

    That was certainly the case when I went to La Classique between PSG and Marseille six years ago, with chants from the Kop de Boulogne being answered, after an ominous pause, by the stand of Auteuil behind the opposite goal.

    Violence between PSG supporters in those two stands, and against rival fans, made the Parc des Princes a dangerous place in those days. But a crackdown on hooligan groups has led to hundreds of supporters being barred.

    Some say that has killed the atmosphere, and has combined with the takeover by the Qatar Investment Authority to make the club "lose its soul."

    Those that remain may be glad to see the back of the soul if it means the end of fighting inside and outside the ground. But what few can contemplate is a move away from the Parc, even temporarily.

    The Qatari owners last year briefly mooted the idea of demolishing the stadium to increase the capacity from 47,000 to 70,000, with PSG taking residence in the Stade de France in the meantime.

    On Wednesday, 20Minutes asked 87-year-old architect Roger Tallibert, who designed the Parc in its present state in 1972, what he thought of that notion.

    "Do you want to destroy Notre-Dame as well, to make a bit more space?", he replied.

    France will be on hallowed ground when they step on PSG's turf on Friday. They'll hope the ghosts of 1993 aren't there to witness the beginning of the end of another World Cup campaign.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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