The World Champions of pessimism. Thats what the outstanding journalist Simon Kuper calls the French. Hed know, he has lived amongst them for over 10 years. Kuper, writer of all things good, said last year in a piece for the Financial Times that schooling in the country was one of the key reasons for the countrys negativity. Early childhood here is mostly happy, but then French schools seem to make people miserable for life. I first glimpsed this when my wife and I went to a parent-teacher meeting. It was the only one we were granted all year, so we were itching to hear about our daughters triumphs. This teacher saw her job solely as pointing out shortcomings. Thats pretty much the essence of French schooling, notes Peter Gumbel in his shocking book On achève bien les écoliers (They Shoot School Kids, Dont They?). French pupils, Gumbel explains, are almost never praised and frequently told they are worthless. Gumbel has not written a book on the state of the current French football team but if he chose to he could use the same description of their players. Since losing 2-0 in Ukraine last Friday, Frances national footballers had been taken out to the schoolyard and given a good hiding by the media and the public. LEquipe started Friday with the front page headline Everyone is behind Les Blues, but after a loss in Kiev, the country were not behind them at all. A poll taken by Le Parisien revealed 83.6 per cent felt France would not qualify for Brazil 2014. The 2-0 deficit played a part, but overall it reflected the general feeling the people of France had towards their national team. The French public had had enough. It is not hard to sympathize with them. Since getting to the World Cup final in 2006, France were pathetic at Euro 2008 and disgraced at the World Cup in 2010, failing to win a match at both tournaments. The players revolted against then coach Raymond Domenech and when Laurent Blanc took over, the 23 players in South Africa were disregarded for the first game, with some, such as Patrice Evra and Franck Ribery, suspended by their own football federation for their behaviour. Blanc steadied the ship for a while, but when they lost a crucial match at Euro 2012 against Sweden, he admitted the camp had issues inside the dressing room: "It kicked off because all the players felt that everyone hadnt given everything." Frances loss meant they faced Spain, who would easily beat them in the quarter finals, and negative tactics coupled with poor behaviour towards the countrys media saw them exit in disgrace again. This time Blanc had had enough. France were again a national time divided. In 2013, it is harder than ever to get true unity with a national team. More than ever, players ply their trades for clubs away from their home country. They are individuals linked by nothing more than a passport and that is certainly the way France have played in qualifying for the World Cup. They started the campaign as the team no seed wanted to face, the 10th-best side in Europe according to the world rankings, and the moment they got Spain, they looked like a team stuck in third gear waiting for the playoffs. A smaller European group denied them a chance to climb the rankings, appearing once again in a draw unseeded. They were the team no seeded team wanted to face, once again. Ukraine were the unlucky ones, we were told. Yet, in the first leg France were predictably poor. A team lacking leadership who lost the plot when down a goal. Ukraine no longer believed they were worth fearing and France looked like a team who knew what the rest of Europe didnt - they were not as good as people thought. "Someone who is a starter at Real Madrid, cant be as bad as that?" harshly asked French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet earlier in qualifying but, in truth, he was right. Many of the French players looked nothing like those who played for their clubs. "Bravery! More Bravery! screamed LEquipes headline last weekend. And so with the nation angry with their national team once again, Didier Deschamps team had one last chance to get them back. A packed house at the Stade de France certainly didnt reflect the mood of the nation, getting behind their team from the moment the national anthem sung. Five changes were made to the French team that lost in Ukraine and everyone of them made a difference. In Mathieu Valbuena, France had vision and desire to attack in the final third, to push Ukraine deep and force their defenders to give away unnecessary fouls. In the 22nd minute, the Marseille man sent in a brilliant free kick that Ribery got on the end of and his powerful shot rebounded out to Mamadou Sakho to score his first international goal. Sakho, like Benzema, was one of the five changes made by Deschamps, and the Real Madrid man made it 2-0 soon after when he took the ball, which bounced off Valbuena, and into his path, to slot home. Stade de France erupted and the linesman, crucially, kept his flag down despite the striker being way offside. It was difficult to feel sorry for Ukraine, however, as five minutes earlier Benzema had a legitimate goal ruled out for offside. In 34 minutes, France had gotten back on level terms. Except, it wasnt. The archaic away goals rule that UEFA continues to adopt in these qualifiers meant France were on edge throughout. Brave was indeed the word of the day as Yohan Cabaye, another one of the famous five, led a brilliant resolute French side at 2-0, popping up in key areas to make crucial interceptions and tackles. Ukraine, down to 10 men after the dismissal of Yevhen Khacheridi, knew one goal would be enough. At 2-0, France still had it all to do, yet it was at these nervous times when they looked their most mature. They looked like a side that felt they would score, but knew the importance of not conceding. The goal would come, they felt, and come it did. From a second phase of a corner, Mathieu Debuchys cross wasnt dealt with by Ukraines defence and when Riberys strike came across goal it was knocked into his own net by Oleg Gusev. Deschamps, the former skipper who lifted the World Cup in that very stadium fifteen years ago, once stood for everything that was great in French football. Now, he stood powerless. He would kick and head every ball from the sideline for the next 20 minutes until the final whistle put him and his country out of their misery. Deschamps was lifted into the air by his players and coaching staff and hundreds of Tricolour flags flew inside the stadium. France had found themselves and a performance many didnt know they had left in them. The French may be pessimistic, but they are just as passionate. Tonight, the world champions of pessimism can love their national team once again. PHILADELPHIA - Despite a slow start to the season, the Raptors (4-7) can overtake the surprising 76ers (5-7) in the standings and claim sole possession of first place in the Atlantic when the division rivals meet on Wednesday. Dwane Casey has reminded his players that "the league hasnt gone anywhere" and their own division is a prime example. Its still early but Atlantic front runners New York and Brooklyn sit at the bottom of the division, both at 3-7, while Philadelphia - expected to be among the NBAs worst this season - has been a pleasant surprise, although the young 76ers appear to be coming back down to earth. "You read all this stuff about, theyre not playing to win, or whatever," Casey said, referring to the widespread belief that Philadelphia has constructed its team with the intention to tank this season. "Teams go in there with that relaxed attitude and thats not true." "Whatever the message is, those players are playing hard to win. You can have a different mission as an organization but as players theyre playing to win." After a 3-0 start - with impressive wins over the Heat and Bulls - the 76ers have struggled and, like the Raptors, have lost three of four coming into Wednesdays game. Two of Torontos defeats have come in overtime, including a 118-110 loss to the Trail Blazers at home Sunday afternoon. Rudy Gay scored 10 of his team-high 30 points during a 19-6 fourth-quarter run which was capped off by the forwards buzzer-beating layup to force extra time. The 76ers - who have defeated Toronto in seven of nine meetings - are coming off a 97-94 loss in Dallas on Monday, a game in which they shot just 38 per cent from the field. "They play really hard and outwork guys," said Philadelphia-native Kyle Lowry. "Theyve got some good players, theyve got players that are trying to make a name for themselves and theyre just going out there and playing hard." The Raptors havent been atop the Atlantic later than 10 games into a season since 2006-07, the only year they won the division. Trends and Tidbits Gay (20.6 points per game) and DeMar DeRozan (20.5) are one of four pairs of teammates averaging 20 or more points apiece in the NBA. Gay has scored 20 or more in each of the last four contests however, the team is winless (0-3) when both players exceed 20 points in the same game. The Raptors are 0-5 when DeRozan scores 20 or more. Gay and DeRozan have accounted for 46 per cent of the teams field goal attempts through 11 games, shooting a combined 39 per cent from the floor. The Raptors have reached 100 points in four of their last five games, averaging 102.4 points, after failing to hit the century mark in each of the six games to open the season, scoring 92.3. Toronto is 2-2 when scoring 100 or more this season and was 16-16 a year ago. Amir Johnson is one block away from reaching 500 for his career. Johnson has blocked 342 shots in 310 games as a Raptor and currently ranks seventh on the teams all-time blocks list. What to Watch For Control the pace With an average age just under 24-years-old,, the 76ers are tied with Cleveland for the youngest team in the NBA.dddddddddddd. Theyre young, theyre quick and they look to run wherever possible. "They have some guys that get out in transition," Casey said of the hosting 76ers, who play at the fastest pace in the league. "Weve got to get back, build a wall, ready to play quick one-one-one defence and then when the shot goes up, weve got to make sure we find a body." Conversely, Toronto is last in the league in pace and although the Raptors coach has indicated hed like to get out in transition, hes also not planning on forcing the issue. "I dont know if we have natural runners," Casey said. "A lot of people get caught up in pace of play [but] I dont. I think you have to play the pace of play thats comfortable according to your talents." Pressure the young Sixers "The number one thing, the way they beat Miami, the way they beat Houston, the way they beat Chicago is hard play," Casey said of the 76ers. "Weve got to match that intensity at their place." The 76ers have snuck up on a few of the leagues elite teams with their hard play but more recently, their youth and inexperience has stood out. Philadelphia is committing an average of 17.3 turnovers per game, sixth most in the league, including 4.4 in the fourth quarter. Toronto has outscored its opponent in the fourth quarter in each of its last four games. Bench production Can either teams second unit step up and take pressure off the starters? Both teams rank in the bottom four in bench scoring, the Sixers reserves averaging 24.3 points per game (27th) and Torontos subs scoring 23.9 (29th). Who to Watch For Kyle Lowry The Raptors point guard has done a better job as the teams floor general, totalling 24 assists and only three turnovers over the last three games. However, he continues to struggle with his jump shot. Lowry is just 6-for-26 from the field in his last two contests, including 1-for-14 from three-point range. Lowry, a Philadelphia native, will look to get back on track against the team he grew up watching. "It never gets old," Lowry said ahead of his return to Philadelphia. "It never gets old because its home." The 27-year-old is averaging 13.8 points and 5.8 assists in five career games in his hometown. Evan Turner The fourth-year forward is one of the young 76ers players who has stood out early in the season, taking advantage of the added playing time hes been given. Turner is scoring a career-best 22.0 points per game on 47 per cent shooting, also averaging 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists. Historically, Turner has struggled against Toronto, averaging only 8.2 points on 35 per cent shooting in 11 career meetings with the Raptors. Injury Report 76ers rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams has missed the last four games with a bruised left foot but participated in shootaround Wednesday morning and hopes to play against Toronto. Raptors forward Quincy Acy is questionable after spraining his right ankle early in Sundays game against Portland. Cheap NFL Jerseys Cheap NFL Jerseys China Cheap Jerseys From China Cheap NFL Jerseys Authentic Wholesale Jerseys China Cheap NFL Jerseys China NFL Cheap Jerseys Cheap Soccer Jerseys ' ' '