With France needing a solitary point at home to Bosnia-Herzegovina on Tuesday to qualify automatically for the finals of Euro 2012, unwanted memories of a previous failed campaign have inevitably bubbled to the surface
18 years ago, France were presented with consecutive home games with Israel and Bulgaria needing one point to book their place at the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
It should have been a straightforward conclusion to a straightforward qualifying campaign, but instead it turned into one of the most traumatic episodes in the country’s sporting history.
Stunned 3-2 by an Israel side that had not previously won a game, France were drawing 1-1 with Bulgaria in their final game when a last-minute counter-attack for the visitors ended with Emil Kostadinov lashing in an unforgettable winner.
Laurent Blanc was the defender who hurled himself vainly at Kostadinov’s feet and in the build-up to Tuesday’s game, the France coach has been obliged to re-visit that agonising November night at Parc des Princes.
“You can make a parallel (with 1993), but it’s starting to get a bit old,” he said last week. “The media are always there to remind us about it.”
One significant difference is that, this time, France will approach the game with the safety net of a play-off place, having made sure of at least a second-place finish in Group D by beating Albania 3-0 on Friday.
Bosnia, impressively beaten 2-0 by France in the return fixture in September 2010, must win to secure automatic qualification, but Blanc expects them to play with some circumspection.
“The context is different to the first match that we won at their place,” he said. “Their team has some fantastic players and they tend to play on the counter-attack. For us, we’ll be going into the match to win it.”
France centre-back Adil Rami sought to raise the pre-match temperature by labelling Bosnia playmaker Miralem Pjanic “a cry-baby, who does nothing but fall over”.
Pjanic elected not to meet fire with fire in responding to Rami’s jibe, however.
“I’ve never had a bad relationship with Adil Rami,” said the 21-year-old, who joined Roma this summer after three years’ service at Lyon.
“Maybe I’m a player who tries to play a bit with the referee, that’s all. But I’m not a bad player.”
Rami was more charitable in his assessment of Pjanic’s team-mate Edin Dzeko, labelling the Manchester City striker “the number one danger” in Safet Susic’s side.
Dzeko has scored six goals in five Premier League starts for City this season, but Blanc was quick to remind his charges that Bosnia possess “some other talented players”, warning: “We can’t just get fixated about Dzeko.”
France have a host of injury concerns with Patrice Evra (thigh) and Yohan Cabaye (ankle) hurt against Albania.
Eric Abidal, meanwhile, who missed out against Albania because of a hamstring complaint, trained for the first time on Sunday.
Susic saw his side overwhelm Group D whipping boys Luxembourg 5-0 on Friday but he has vowed to make changes for Tuesday’s showdown in Paris.
“It would be crazy to take on France with the same team,” said the Bosnia coach, whose side are also assured of at least a play-off berth. There will certainly be changes to the team.”
Susic, who spent nine distinguished years at Paris Saint-Germain as a player, is bidding to lead Bosnia to their first major tournament since the country was granted independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1992.
Media in Sarajevo report that up to 12,000 Bosnian supporters will be present at Stade de France on Tuesday, when Dzeko and his team-mates will attempt to raise the dreaded ghost of Kostadinov.