World Cup Previews: Defence is a big question mark but France have the firepower

Sports Wednesday 30/May/2018 15:04 PM
By: Times News Service
World Cup Previews: Defence is a big question mark but France have the firepower

FRANCE built their 1998 World Cup-winning squad around a rock-solid defence but 20 years on they could do just the opposite, with their dazzling array of creative, attacking talent ready to make all the difference at the 2018 edition.
Such is Les Bleus' firepower up front that manager Didier Deschamps even has the luxury of not missing Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, who has not been selected ever since being involved in a sex-tape blackmail scandal in 2015.
France can not only call on Paris St Germain prodigy Kylian Mbappe but also Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann and Olympique de Marseille's Dimitri Payet, the duo who shone during Euro 2016 on home soil before the hosts lost in the final.
Payet flew under the radar for most of this season but recent impressive performances earned him a place in the 23-man squad.
In sharp contrast, the back four have been a recurrent problem for Deschamps.
Neither Samuel Umtiti nor Raphael Varane have been convincing this season as France, while twice using them as their centre back pairing in their last three matches, have conceded six goals.
To add to the concerns, centre back Laurent Koscielny has been ruled out of the tournament injured, limiting the coach's options.
There are also question marks over another key player, Paul Pogba, following a see-saw season at Manchester United, where manager Jose Mourinho has been starting him only sporadically.
Yet France have weapons which should see them at the very least progress from Group C, where they face Australia, Denmark and Peru with a potential quarterfinal against Spain or European champions Portugal on the horizon.
For while Pogba has struggled, holding midfielder Blaise Matuidi has in one season become a cornerstone for Juventus while Corentin Tolisso has also dramatically improved at Bayern Munich.
Indeed, Tolisso could end up paired with the Juve engine instead of Pogba, or even Ngolo Kante.
Up front, Griezmann is a very likely starter after another prolific campaign, his pace and delicate turns able to unsettle any defence, while Olivier Giroud as number nine also gives France an aerial threat.
The unsinkable Chelsea striker has scored with more headers than anyone in Europe's top five leagues over the past three seasons.
The last attacking spot should be filled by the exciting PSG teenager Mbappe, who has steadily improved as he has sought to live up to his billing as the world's second most expensive player since moving from Monaco. - Reuters


FIFA ranking: 7

Previous tournaments
France have appeared at 14 World Cups, claiming their best result when they won the title on home soil in 1998 led by then captain and current coach Didier Deschamps, as Les Bleus beat Brazil 3-0 in the final at the Stade de France.
After finishing third in 1958, France had to wait until the 1980s to become title contenders once more, twice falling at the semi-final stage to West Germany in 1982 and four years later.
France reached the final again in 2006, inspired by talismanic midfielder Zinedine Zidane, who scored and was then sent off in the title match after his remarkable head butt on Marco Materazzi as Italy won on penalties following a 1-1 draw.

Coach: Didier Deschamps
Deschamps is France's most decorated player at club and national team level, having captained the team to the 1998 World Cup and the Euro 2000 titles.
He also won the Champions League twice, with Olympique de Marseille and Juventus as a steely holding midfielder, which earned him the nickname 'water carrier' by Eric Cantona. He became France coach in 2012 when he succeeded his former France team mate Laurent Blanc, taking Les Bleus to the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup and the Euro 2016 final at home.
Prior to his international managerial stint, he gained promotion to Serie A with Juventus, took Monaco to the Champions League final and led Marseille to their first title in 18 years. Deschamps started his playing career at Nantes and also represented Chelsea, Valencia and Bordeaux. His performances and his qualities as team leader earned the 49-year-old 103 caps for France.

Key players
Antoine Griezmann: Griezmann's stellar campaign with Atletico Madrid has seen him strongly linked with a move to Barcelona during the close season. After scoring 19 goals from 30 La Liga games and six in 13 European ties, the striker heads to Russia in the form of his life.
Paul Pogba: France's chances could largely depend on Pogba's form after the Manchester United midfielder endured a patchy season under coach Jose Mourinho, who was not afraid to drop him following poor performances. Deschamps will also be prepared to keep Pogba on the bench if his performances waver in Russia.
Olivier Giroud: Giroud has often been dismissed by fans as too clumsy and one-dimensional to lead the France attack yet the Chelsea striker, Europe's most prolific in the air over the past three seasons, has always saved some of his best performances for the national side.

Form guide
France have conceded six goals in their last three games, including in a 3-2 home defeat in a friendly against Colombia, indicating that Les Bleus have a problem in defence. They did bounce back with a convincing 3-1 away win against Russia but Deschamps will be hoping centre backs Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane are on their best form when the competition starts.

How they qualified
In a group featuring Sweden and the Netherlands, France were strong favourites and they progressed in a relatively straightforward manner with seven wins, two draws and a defeat, scoring 18 and conceding six goals.

France should have little trouble advancing from Group C where they will face Australia, Denmark and Peru. They will, however, be wary of Peru as the last time they played a South American side (Colombia), they lost. If they qualify for the last 16, they will take on one of the top-two finishers in Group D, which features Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria. Should they make the quarterfinals, Les Bleus could face either Spain or Portugal, who beat them in the Euro 2016 final.