Rewind back to November 2013. England had safely qualified for the World Cup in Brazil and were sitting pretty as top of their group. France, on the other hand, were in the play-offs and were outplayed in the first leg by Ukraine, losing 2-0. They were on the brink.
However, following their 3-0 return leg victory, they booked their place on the plane and have looked ominously impressive in their opening two matches. Eight goals notched already and seeming certainties to reach the latter stages.
England though are out after just two games for the first time in their history and the recriminations are long and hard.
For me, I have no idea how this could come as a surprise.
In a poor qualifying group, England sleepwalked through the first half, drawing with Montenegro, Poland and Ukraine before finally waking up to defeat the former two at Wembley. A dour 0-0 draw in Kiev smacked of little ambition and demonstrated many flaws in the team.
To his credit, Roy Hodgson has tried to freshen the squad up and give it a more zestful, attacking look. It didn’t materialise on the pitch though.
Against Italy, they played quite well, although the defending left much to be desired. However, against Uruguay, they were sloppy, and the lack of international class amongst Johnson, Jagielka, Baines, Henderson (even Gerrard?) et al was painfully obvious. You would also have thought they might have heard of a bloke called Suarez who was quite good…
As for France, well they look to have moulded their talents into a side of real force at this World Cup. Headed up by an inspiring manager whose playing feats include winning the trophy itself, they work hard for each other, attack fearlessly and skillfully and have a shape which suits their skills. Even Mathieu Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko looked effective last night – and that’s saying something based on recent Newcastle performances.
Deschamps was unafraid to ignore Samir Nasri (a divisive influence) and was shorn of his other most creative influence in Franck Ribery through injury. No matter. The likes of Valbuena, Benzema, Griezmann, Matuidi and Giroud have all shone.
It’s fair to say they haven’t had the toughest of groups, but who’d have predicted the rise of Costa Rica in Group D? Sophie certainly didn’t see it coming!
This French team are exhilarating to watch, packed full of quality players but also more than the sum of its parts. Exactly the opposite of England.
The channel between the two sides looks as wide as ever.