LONDON (AP) — Things have changed so dramatically for France over the past decade that a scoreless draw against Belgium last month in a friendly was praised as a good result for the former world champions.
Ahead of its World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Belarus, the French team is second in Group I, one point behind Spain after losing 1-0 at home to football's new leading country in March. With only a few hopes of gaining direct qualification for the tournament in Brazil, defeat is not an option.
"Our objective is to get six points to ensure we finish at least second in our group," France coach Didier Deschamps said.
While France will be hoping for its strikers to end a miserable run of four matches without a goal — Karim Benzema has not scored for Les Bleus in more than a year — England has limited attacking options in Group H ahead of its double-header against Moldova and Ukraine in Group H after Wayne Rooney pulled out of the squad with a head injury.
In-form Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge missed training with a thigh injury earlier this week and is in doubt for the match against Moldova at Wembley Stadium on Friday. England is second in Group H, two points behind Montenegro with a game in hand and with four matches left.
England then travels to Kiev to play third-place Ukraine on Sept. 10.
France was a dominant force in world football at the turn of the century, even surpassing Brazil at the top of the FIFA rankings. Spurred by the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry, it won the 1998 World Cup and the European Championship two years later.
But the country has only managed to reach one quarterfinal in its past three tournaments — losing to Spain at that stage of Euro 2012 under former coach Laurent Blanc. Since the 2010 World Cup debacle, where the team crashed out miserably and the players went on strike at training, the team has improved but is only 23rd in the rankings, sandwiched between Peru and Ghana.
Franck Ribery, who rose to prominence during the 2006 World Cup where France ended runner-up, said his teammates would play with a different mindset if they become a formidable team again.
Ribery, one of the team's most experienced players, enjoyed a tremendous season with Bayern and was been voted UEFA player of the year.
"What I've been living at Bayern is completely different," Ribery said. "At Bayern, we never ask ourselves questions. With France, when a player misses, he loses confidence, he is afraid of being criticized.
"But we'll try to make everyone regain confidence, lift the pressure. There are some things that we don't do, that we don't dare doing like long crosses, while at Bayern, these are just automatic things."
Benzema has not scored for the national team since his two goals against Estonia in a friendly before last year's European Championship. Deschamps said the Real Madrid forward could play in a different role in Tbilisi, alongside Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud.
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