France have come into the 2018 FIFA World Cup determined to end an 18-year wait for a major international title. With France's 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro-winning captain Didier Deschamps at the helm, the squad, boasting of a perfect balance between youth and experience are favourites to clinch their second FIFA World Cup.
A look at the players Deschamps has left behind speaks volumes of the quality in his 23-man squad. The likes of Kingsley Coman, Adrien Rabiot, Dimitri Payet, Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette would walk into most national teams in Russia but their absence only highlights the quality of the squad that has travelled to Russia.
Youth is the answer
At the World Cup, France have the second-youngest squad — behind Nigeria — with an average of 26 years. The average age reduces to 23 years if only Deschamps' preferred starting 11 is considered.
The likes of Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Thomas Lemar have progressed leaps and bounds following their breakthrough seasons in 2016-17 which saw PSG and Barcelona spend in excess of 100 million euros to acquire Mbappe and Dembele respectively. Lemar will also join Dembele in La Liga after Atletico Madrid reached an agreement with Monaco for his transfer days before the World Cup.
With Laurent Koscielny missing due to an ankle injury, Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti will start in the heart of the French defence. Though only 25 and 24 respectively, the duo are important players in the national team as well as their clubs – Real Madrid and Barcelona, their experience and talent beguiles their age. The young Frenchmen have also hugely benefited by playing alongside two of the best defenders in Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique at their clubs. In PSG's Presnel Kimpembe and the experienced Adil Rami, Les Bleus have able backups should injury or suspension rule out Varane and Umtiti.
Even though he was out for most of the season with an ACL injury, Benjamin Mendy has done enough to convince Deschamps that he is France's first choice left back. On the opposite flank will be former Monaco teammate Djibril Sidibe. In them, France have a potent attacking threat down the wings allowing the likes of Mbappe and Dembele to cut inside and provide options inside the box.
In captain Hugo Lloris, France have one of the best goalkeepers in the world and a leader of men, on and off the pitch.
Midfield may prove to be a cause for concern for Les Bleus with questions over talisman Paul Pogba's form. The Manchester United record signing hasn't enjoyed the best of seasons at Old Trafford with club boss Jose Mourinho criticising his star player in public. The 25-year-old has shown glimpses of his quality as was seen in United's 3-2 win over Premier League champions Manchester City. United legend Paul Scholes routinely slammed Pogba last season for his inconsistent performances and tendency to showboat on the pitch.
At Russia, Pogba will have to be more disciplined as he will be in charge of initiating France's attacks from a deeper role. In N'Golo Kante, Pogba has the perfect foil in midfield. The Chelsea man has the legs to cover every blade of grass and his presence will allow Pogba the occasional dribbling runs from deep.
Up top, Deschamps has preferred the strike partnership of Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud and has stuck with Giroud despite Lacazette outscoring him at club level. To be fair to the French coach, Giroud provides an aerial threat in the box and his superior hold up play allows the likes of Griezmann and Mbappe to play off him. Griezmann and Giroud were France's top scorers in the qualifiers with four goals each.
During their World Cup qualifiers, Deschamps oscillated between a balanced 4-3-3 and a more attacking 4-2-2-2 depending upon the quality of the opposition. The 4-2-2-2 formation allows Deschamps to start with Griezmann and Giroud up top with the dangerous Mbappe and Dembele on the wings. France tend to focus their attack from one wing at a time with the full backs overlapping to provide support for the wingers. This tactic forces the opposition defence to lean heavily towards one side leaving a lot empty space on the opposite flank for the second fullback to attack.
The 4-3-3 is preferred against top-ranked teams with a winger being sacrificed for a midfielder for more possession in the middle of the park. With Kante positioned as a holding midfielder, Pogba and either of Matuidi or Tolisso operate as box-to-box midfielders supporting an attacking trio of Giroud, Griezmann and Mbappe.
No off-field distractions
France had entered 2010 edition with huge expectations following their run to the final in Germany four years before. However, they crashed out in the group stage and the situation was worsened by a player revolt and naming of 'traitors' within the team.
Forward Nicolas Anelka had an almighty row with coach Raymond Domenech at halftime in their match against Mexico leading to him to being sent back home. The team, led by captain Patrice Evra, responded to Anelka's expulsion by staging a one-day strike.
The whole fracas led to Domenech's sacking and France Football Federation president, Jean-Pierre Escalettes resigning in disgrace. Laurent Blanc, who took over from Domenech, axed the entire 23-man squad for France's first match after the World Cup.
Five years down the line, as Les Bleus prepared for the Euros on home soil, another scandal erupted. Karim Benzema was arrested by police for allegedly blackmailing teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape featuring the latter. Unlike in 2010, the FFF was quick to respond and suspended Benzema for his role. The Real Madrid striker has not featured for France ever since.
Unlike in the past, where French coaches had to deal with over-inflated egos and infighting, Deschamps helms a close-knit side while striking a balance between youth and experience. The World Cup-winning captain hasn't had to deal with any crisis off the pitch and can focus on leading his side to their first major title in 18 years.
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda, Alphonse Areola
Defenders: Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Benjamin Mendy, Adil Rami, Djibril Sidibe, Presnel Kimpembe, Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Hernandez
Midfielders: Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi, Corentin Tolisso, Steven N'Zonzi
Forwards: Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, Ousmane Dembele, Thomas Lemar, Nabil Fekir, Florian Thauvin
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Updated Date: Jun 15, 2018 17:42:35 IST