World Cup 2018: Why France will win the World Cup
Les Bleus start this summer’s tournament in Russia as one of the favourites to lift the trophy in mid-July and the signs are positive.
Anthony Martial, Karim Benzema, Alexandre Lacazette, Kingsley Coman, Adrien Rabiot and Dimitri Payet.
The list of players not to make the France squad for this World Cup possesses a staggering array of talent, many of whom would be the first name on the team-sheet for the majority of the other participants in Russia.
Such is the level of those absent from the squad, it clarifies the extent of the strength in depth in France’s production line of talent.
Their 23-man panel are young and hungry, they all have a point to prove and the ability to do it.
They may be behind Germany, Spain and Brazil in the odds to lift the trophy in Moscow in five weeks’ time, but France stand as strong a chance as any nation.
A cursory glance at the most expensive players in world football is an indication of the current strength of French football.
World class players are coming through their youth systems, commanding the biggest attention on the transfer market. Last summer, Brazil star Neymar moved to Ligue 1 and Paris Saint-Germain in a scarcely believable €222m fee.
Striker Kylian Mbappe, then 18, followed suit in a deal worth up to €170m. In response, Barcelona spent an initial €105m of their newfound riches to attract Ousmane Dembele – Mbappe’s 21-year-old international teammate – from Borussia Dortmund.
Prior to that summer, star midfielder Paul Pogba held the transfer record for his €95m switch to Manchester United from Juventus.
Whilst Philippe Coutinho’s €145m move to Barcelona has briefly disrupted French dominance of the charts, Antoine Griezmann’s proposed €100m switch to the Camp Nou could yet reinstate France’s superiority in this regard.
Quality runs through the squad. Barcelona centre back Samuel Umtiti is blossoming into arguably Europe’s best defender while Raphael Varane, of Real Madrid, is also fast becoming one of the key players at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Plenty of talent remains in Ligue 1 with Monaco duo Djibril Sidibe and Thomas Lemar, Lyon playmaker Nabil Fekir -who is heavily linked with a switch to Liverpool, and Florian Thauvin, who has rejuvenated his career at Marseille after struggling at Newcastle.
In the midfield engine room, N’Golo Kante, Corentin Tolisso and Blaise Matuidi are excellent complements for Pogba, and are among the best in the business.
Ability to rotate
Whilst there are a selection of sure-fire starters in this squad, boss Didier Deschamps is not afraid to rotate depending on the strengths of the opponent. Les Bleus’ phenomenal strength accomodates this policy.
Olivier Giroud can be used against teams who struggle aerially and physically, as well as providing a good outlet for counter-attacking football, whilst Steven N’Zonzi can be introduced to add a physical presence in midfield.
Pogba and Griezmann are unlikely to be dropped, but others may be in order to make the stars tick, while the ability to select direct threats from wide areas – Mbappe and Dembele – gives this France team an extra dimension.
On the subject of Griezmann, moreover, the Atletico Madrid forward is highly versatile, giving Deschamps the options to use him as either a number ten, a striker or wide forward given the opposition.
Deschamps has now been in charge of the national side for six years and unlike previous tournaments, he has forged a squad who are unified and have an identity.
At club level, he guided Marseille to the Ligue 1 title, led Juventus out of Serie B at the first attempt and brought Monaco to the 2004 Champions League final.
A narrow defeat by Germany in the quarter-finals sealed their fate in Brazil in 2014 and there is still irritation following the 2016 European Championship final defeat at home to Portugal. This is the perfect stage for Les Bleus to atone.
They start with a group which is not unkind and will be strong favourites to romp home, despite Denmark and Peru appearing tricky opponents.
If they can get off to a fast start, there is no reason why France cannot go all the way.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss France and the rest of Group C in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.