World Cup 2018 France Preview
Although their squad is probably the best on paper, France’s manager Didier Deschamp still has his critics.
Like many French teams before them, the current squad is packed full of star quality yet they’re still regarded as a team of hope rather than belief.
Didier Deschamps is the manager tasked with mining this potential and, on paper at least, he will have plenty of resources at his disposal to mount a serious challenge for the trophy.
Since winning the competition in 1998 on home soil, France have alternated between the sublime and the ridiculous during their attempts for a second title.
Failing to win a game in both the 2002 and 2010 competitions, they will hope to break this worrying trend next month.
With the likes of Karim Benzema, Anthony Martial, Kingsley Coman, Dimitri Payet, Adrien Rabiot and Alexandre Lacazette all missing the final cut to travel to Russia, can the collection of stars who did make the plane make the cut is the big question.
Route to final
France sealed their passage to Russia by topping group A of UEFA’s qualification process but they were far from convincing.
Beginning with a poor 0-0 draw away to Belarus, the team who ultimately finished bottom of the group below Luxembourg, early signs of potential problems were quickly swept away with four successive wins against each of the other sides.
Placed in a tough group which saw Sweden reach the finals through the playoffs and the Netherlands suffer third place ignominy, France stuttered through their final fixtures.
A 2-1 loss in Sweden and a surprise 0-0 draw at home to Luxembourg may have been the only points dropped by Les Bleus, however, they often looked far less than the sum of their parts.
Qualification was eventually clinched in their final fixture, a 2-1 win over Belarus, but it was a nervy performance which showed little spark of creativity.
With only 18 goals from their 10 games, a total less than both Sweden and Holland, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud were the players to top their scoring charts with a modest four goals each.
Success was largely built on defence for Deschamps’ side, conceding only six goals and keeping five clean sheets during an efficient campaign which left plenty of room for improvement.
Deschamps will be spoilt for choice in many positions across his team and could also struggle to settle on a preferred formation.
Having played 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 in recent games, France still look to be searching for a system which can best shoehorn their wealth of attacking players into the team.
Olivier Giroud has also scored more goals for France under Deschamps than any other player. However, a lack of playing time this season could see him fail to secure a starting berth.
Hugo Lloris will start and captain the team while the return to fitness of Ousmane Dembélé will be a huge boost at right wing, although his is not guaranteed a starting place.
Key Player: N’Golo Kanté
While there’s an abundance of attacking players in this team, they have largely failed to form a cohesive bond in their national team.
One player that rarely fails to deliver for club or country sits literally in the heart of the team, Kanté.
The diminutive Chelsea midfielder may not have caught the attention of previous season’s, but his recent form remains sky-high which saw him collect Chelsea’s internal player of the season award.
With France likely to have a dependency on their defence, Kanté will be the glue which joins this team together.
How well they ultimately do will depend a great deal on the players in front of him but they will have a strong platform to work on thanks to his tireless work in mopping up the crumbs.
Group stage matchup
As the highest-ranked side in group C, France will be the clear favourites to progress to the knockout stages.
While this is hardly a group of death, neither will there be any respite as they will face three mid-tier sides who are all capable of upsetting the odds.
An opening game against Australia on Saturday 16th is followed by Peru and then Denmark in a set of fixtures which will centre around Kazan, a city due East of Moscow.
Australia will come into this tournament with a certain mystery having named a new manager in Bert van Marwijk last January, while Peru also offer an air of unpredictability although are the lowest ranked side from South America.
With the Danes to play in the final game, France save the most dangerous challenge until last but they will hope to have sealed their progress by then.
A lack of concentration has blighted France lately, something which became starkly clear when Columbia came back from two goals down to beat them in a friendly in March.
They possess enough talent to do extremely well this summer but could struggle against sides who play as a cohesive unit, something which makes their fixture against Denmark particularly daunting.
France should see their way safely from the group stages but despite being one of the favourites to in, could find the exit at the quarterfinal stage.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss France and Group C in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.