JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Troubled France tackle Mexico in a crucial Group A Polokwane showdown on Thursday desperate for a win that would raise morale and open the doors to the last 16.
Les Bleus (The Blues) have reached two of the last three finals, crushing Brazil 3-0 in the 1998 Paris climax with Zinedine Zidane scoring twice and losing a penalty shootout to Italy in Berlin four years ago.
But the French looked anything but potential finalists in Cape Town last Friday as they ground out a goalless draw with 10-man Uruguay in a group completed by hosts South Africa.
It has placed coach Raymond Domenech in a position he knows only too well - under public and media pressure - and even the weather has not been kind to the man who will be replaced by former star Laurent Blanc after the World Cup.
The Western Cape where France camp at a five-star resort is notorious for delivering all four seasons within 24 hours and downpours have transformed the training pitch into an uninviting, sodden mess.
Fellow finalists Denmark refused Domenech permission to use their facilities in the area so France had to carry on in less than perfect conditions preparing for a game that could define their World Cup.
A win over Mexico and they would have one foot in the second round ahead of their final mini-league fixture against South Africa on June 22 in the central city of Bloemfontein.
But a loss could prove catastrophic as it would probably leave the 2000 European champions needing maximum points against the hosts in probably the most intimidating South African cauldron to have any hope of survival.
Outwardly at least, the French squad seem unperturbed by poor warm-up results culminating in a loss to non-qualifiers China on the island of Reunion, government criticism of the luxury resort, and the drab draw with Uruguay.
Defender Eric Abidal from Spanish champions Barcelona came straight to the point when quizzed about Polokwane: "We have to play for a win against Mexico and nothing less."
He believes there is no cause for alarm, reminding reporters how Les Bleus struggled early on in Germany only to stun hot favourites Brazil en route to the final.
France could only draw with Switzerland and South Korea and were facing a second successive humiliating first-round exit from the tournament before overcoming tournament weaklings Togo 2-0 to finish group runners-up.
"We have to step up a gear and make it out of the first round," said Abidal ahead of the second match staged at 46,000-seat Peter Mokaba Stadium, one of five purpose-built World Cup venues.
Mexico midfielder Andres Guardado, whose deep cross created the equaliser in a 1-1 draw against South Africa at Soccer City five days ago, believes the Central Americans can be the "revelations" of the tournament.
"There are always lots of surprises in football and though no one probably gives us a chance of getting through to the next round or the quarter-finals, we remain confident."
Although criticising the underachieving French has become popular, left-side midfielder Guardado from Spanish club Deportivo la Coruna is having none of it.
"How can you underestimate a team that boasts footballers like (Yoann) Gourcuff, (Franck) Ribery and (William) Gallas and reached two of the last three World Cup finals?
"The host nation tends to do well at each tournament and Uruguay are always a threat especially having arrived in South Africa following some impressive warm-up victories."
Key to Match
Franck Ribery (FRA) v Giovani dos Santos (MEX)
Most football followers know how good an attacking midfielder Ribery can be as his touchline trickery down the left flank is followed by a cut inside or cross. However, less known Turkey-based Dos Santos drove South Africa to distraction with his ball skills and speed and requires special attention.
|Coach: R. Domenech|
for N. Anelka 46'
for S. Govou 69'
|Koeman slams ´crazy´ Christmas fixture list|
|Iniesta, Vermaelen unavailable for Cyprus trip|
|Zenit v Benfica: Pereira, Lima set to return for Portuguese champions|
|Inzaghi sorry for derby stalemate|
|Colombian Primera A Review: Medellin on cusp of final, Santa Fe deny Huila|
|Mancini ´very happy´ with derby draw|
|Peruvian Primera Division Review: Sporting Cristal beaten|
|Liga del Futbol Profesional Boliviano Review: Late Blooming spark sends Oriente second|
|Venezuelan Primera Division Review: Trujillanos stay top, Metropolitanos embarrassed|
|Liga MX Review: Pachuca, Pumas UNAM reach play-offs|
|MLS Review: Wins for Galaxy, Revolution|
|Ecuadorian Primera A Review: Top three fail to score, Olmedo win big|
|Brazilian Serie A Review: Cruzeiro retain title|
|Chilean Primera Division Review: Universidad Chile held, Colo Colo go top|
|Costa Rican Primera Division Review: Cartagines into fourth|
|Uruguayan Primera Division Review: Champions Nacional win again|
|Ligue 1 Review: Marseille come from behind, Nantes extend unbeaten run|
|La Liga Review: Valencia suffer derby defeat, Rayo Vallecano beat Celta Vigo|
|Serie A Review: Mancini´s Inter rescue derby draw|
|Milan 1 Inter 1: Draw for Mancini on return|
|Pochettino wants home comforts|
|Bundesliga Review: Hamburg secure derby win, Stuttgart beaten again|
|Bruce disappointed with Vertonghen reaction|
|Eriksen backing Tottenham to kick on|
|Hull City 1 Tottenham 2: Eriksen snatches late winner after Ramirez sees red|
|Eredivisie Review: De Leeuw denies leaders PSV, Heracles secure timely win|
|Rodgers takes responsibility for Liverpool slump|
|Falcao ready for United return|
|Warnock basks in Palace display|
|Fabregas calls for ruthlessness|
|Crystal Palace 3 Liverpool 1: Rodgers´ men stumble at Palace again|
|Partick Thistle 0 Aberdeen 1: Rooney spot on for visitors|
|Reus blow for Dortmund|
|Mulvey leaves Roar post|
|Shakhtar Donetsk v Athletic Bilbao: Bernard eyes fast start|
|Forster urges Southampton to build|
|Sporting v Maribor: Montero out to continue hot streak|
|Schalke v Chelsea: Chance of revenge for Di Matteo|
|Manchester City v Bayern Munich: Pellegrini putting pressure on himself|
|Mourinho guards against Chelsea complacency|
|Rodriguez urges Real focus|
|Paris Saint-Germain v Ajax: Dutch outfit quietly confident|
|APOEL v Barcelona: Xavi seeks further improvement|
|Gotze basks in Bayern form|
|Tevez wants domestic form replicated in Europe|
|Mixed news on Naismith for Everton|
|Central Coast Mariners 0 Adelaide United 2: Sanchez nets brace for visitors|
|Can full of praise for Gerrard|
|BATE v Porto: Visitors eye top spot|
|CSKA Moscow v Roma: Italians eye qualification|
|Simeone lauds Atletico display|
|Messi the best ever - Luis Enrique|
|Eredivisie Review: Feyenoord make Peersman pay, Ajax beat Heerenveen|
|La Liga Review: Real Madrid, Barcelona win big|
|Allegri lauds Pogba performance|
|Messi pays homage after record-breaking day|
|Messi the record breaker|
|Serie A Review: Top two both victorious|
|Taylor hints that knee injury not as bad as first feared|
|Ligue 1 Review: Lyon stumble against Bastia|
|Van Gaal critical of United despite win|
|Lazio 0 Juventus 3: Pogba and Tevez star as champions dominate|
|Wenger frustrated by wasteful Arsenal defeat|
|Barcelona 5 Sevilla 1: Messi breaks La Liga record as Barca cruise|
|Garcia delighted with Ljajic display|
|League One Review: Swindon close the gap at the top, Yeovil off the bottom|
|Messi breaks La Liga goal record|
|Ancelotti: Isco a ´perfect´ Modric replacement|
|Bundesliga Review: Wolfsburg slip helps move Bayern well clear|
|Rooney revels in success of counter-attack ploy|
|Tiago: Malaga scalp proves we´re great|
|Arsenal 1 Manchester United 2: Rooney seals Van Gaal´s maiden away win|
|Reus injury angers Klopp|
|Schweinsteiger pays tribute to Bayern fans|
|Pellegrini salutes Toure´s attitude|
|Hughes laments Stoke´s slow start|
|Allardyce frustrated after Everton defeat|
|We deserved more - Redknapp|
|Irvine: Yacob can have no complaints|
|League Two Review: Luton run ended by Burton, Wycombe go top|
|Eibar 0 Real Madrid 4: Relentless Real win again|
|Poyet defends Cattermole over Cambiasso tackle|
|Dyche hails Burnley resolve|
|Martinez hails ´satisfying´ Everton triumph|
|Pearson sure of Leicester survival|
|Gomis earns Monk forgiveness for late miss|
|Pardew full of praise for Sissoko|
|Mourinho lauds ´beautiful´ Chelsea display|
|Scottish Premiership Review: Guidetti strikes again for Celtic, top four all win|
|Championship Review: Bamford denies Mackay´s Wigan, Derby extend lead|
|Aston Villa v Southampton: Koeman eyes international swagger|
|Newcastle United 1 QPR 0: Skipper Sissoko seals fifth straight win|
|Leicester City 0 Sunderland 0: Hosts´ goal drought continues|
|Stoke City 1 Burnley 2: Ings at the double as visitors hold on|
|Atletico Madrid 3 Malaga 1: Unconvincing champions halt in-form visitors|
|Everton 2 West Ham 1: Osman celebrates landmark with winner|
|Manchester City 2 Swansea 1: Toure seals comeback win for champions|
|Chelsea 2 West Brom 0: Yacob sees red as leaders march on|
|Paderborn 2 Borussia Dortmund 2: Reus injury leads to Dortmund capitulation|
|Bayern Munich 4 Hoffenheim 0: Champions move seven clear|
|Bielsa not concerned by Marseille investigation|
|Mancini buoyed by Inter preparations|
|Benitez rules out Liverpool return|
|Hertha prepared for Kalou absence|
|Montella confident despite Fiorentina pressures|
|Injured Alex out of Milan derby|
|Pochettino wants versatility from Dier|
|Van Gaal will not take risks with Falcao fitness|
|A-League Review: Sydney keep pressure on at top|
|K. League Review: Sangju Sangmu all but down, Gyeongnam remain in danger|
|J.League Review: Gamba deny title-chasing Urawa, Ventforet ensure safety|
|Rabiot thrilled with PSG return|
|Sterling wants long Liverpool stay|
|Poyet: I thought Cattermole would ´shoot´ me|
|Simeone: Cerci interest compliments Atletico|
|Blanc: ´I was confident´ of PSG win|
|Silva sidelined for crucial City-Bayern clash|
|Lambert would ´love´ to keep Vlaar, slams agent|