France believe in destiny despite the gloom

By Patrick Vignal

PARIS (Reuters) - If sky-high confidence and squad tranquility is needed for a successful World Cup, France should probably prepare to leave the finals in South Africa early.

The former champions have under-performed since reaching the final of the 2006 World Cup and needed a goal marred by that infamous Thierry Henry handball to qualify for this one.

Coach Raymond Domenech, who was left in charge despite the early exit from Euro 2008, is extremely unpopular, booed at every match and will quit after the tournament, whatever the outcome.

The news that Franck Ribery, the closest thing to a Zidane that France have these days, was heard as a witness by police investigating a prostitution network added to the gloom surrounding the team's prospects.

The ever-surprising Domenech nevertheless believes the light will shine through in South Africa.

"I'm convinced this team have a date with destiny in 2010," said the France coach, who has a passion for astrology.

The chances of France making an impact at the World Cup looked small when they were outclassed 2-0 by European champions Spain in their last outing in March. They looked like sluggish middle-aged men struggling against energetic boys.

They have plenty of talent, however, and could go a long way if the likes of playmaker Yoann Gourcuff, not to mention Ribery, rise to the occasion.

They also have a world-class goalkeeper in Hugo Lloris, a manageable group featuring South Africa, Mexico and Uruguay to deal with and, last but not least, wounded pride to heal.

The France players will need, however, to deflate their oversized egos, work as a team for a change and fight like lions.

"They must be clever and forget their ego to realize that the only thing that matters is the team, not them," Domenech said. "If they don't understand that, I will need a gun."

(Editing by Robert Woodward)