France, like the U.S., entered the World Cup missing a star

France, like the U.S., entered the World Cup missing a star
France Coach Didier Deschamps faced criticism before the World Cup started, but has his team in the quarterfinals. (ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH / EPA)

Some teams sail into the World Cup through smooth qualifying waters. Others find the going choppy.

Then there is France, which survived treacherous high seas to squeeze into the tournament. Its presence in the elite eight, with a match against Germany, was made possible by a desperate win in a scary qualifier and a subsequent decision with the World Cup roster that sparked debate of Landon Donovan proportions.

A home-and-home series with Ukraine would determine which team moved forward to Brazil. Ukraine had taken the opener on its turf, 2-0. Without at least a two-goal victory in the return match, the French would be denied a chance to atone for its humiliating 2010 Cup, stained by malcontents and a coach that relied on players' zodiac signs for selection to the squad.

A 3-0 win over Ukraine took care of that. When the roster was announced, there was a glaring omission. Midfielder Samir Nasri, a veteran of 41 international appearances and fresh off helping Manchester City to the Premier League title, was left off.

French Coach Didier Deschamps, who benched Nasri for the second Ukraine game, said he based his decision on Nasri's supposedly sour attitude, most evident when he doesn't start. With the harsh memories of 2010 yet to fade, the new national team coach wanted no troublemakers.

His exclusion was met with the same surprise as Donovan getting left off the U.S. squad, a call apparently based strictly on performance. Nasri has not been missed, and everything seems hunky-dory in the French camp that has found the waters at the World Cup as calm as a bathtub's.