Marek Robert looks at a team that many people haven’t even considered as contenders, France.
When it comes to the World Cup, in recent history, it’s been almost impossible to predict how the French National team will perform on the big stage. Since the French won their first World cup on home soil in 1998, it’s been turbulent and shambolic times for the national team. In 2002 they went into to the World Cup as deserved favourites but only managed to muster a point after some woeful performances. In 2006 they restored some pride by going all the way to the final, only losing out on penalties to Italy, in a game that saw that iconic Zidane head butt overshadow the final result (that was for you Sermanni). In 2010 ‘Les Bleus‘ took the word embarrassment to new level, with a combination of terrible displays and off the field feuds they went out again at the group stage.
The 2014 Generation
For this campaign, former French captain and World Cup winner Didier Deschamps has taken over the reigns from the extremely negative minded coach Laurent Blanc, and he seems to have restored some confidence in the national side once again. Sunday nights 8-0 victory over Jamaica, in what was their final friendly before the World Cup, has seen the French team going into the tournament full of confidence for the first time since 2002. Most French fans, including myself, might not be expecting to go to Brazil to be crowned champions but are hoping they can at least put on some decent displays and restore some much needed pride in the French national team once again.
France finished in second place in their qualifying group for Brazil, finishing three points behind Spain and losing just the once in the process. However, they made hard work of the playoff against Ukraine, losing the first leg 2-0 in Kiev after a woeful display. To Deschamps’ credit, the French turned things around in the second leg at the Stade de France, producing what was possibly France’s best display since the Zidane era, destroying Ukraine 3-0.
‘Les Bleus’ have been drawn against Honduras, Switzerland and Ecuador this time, in a group that on paper they should qualify comfortably from as group winners. However, as all us French fans know, you can’t take anything for granted when it comes to the national team. France’s first fixture will be on Sunday the 15th of June against Honduras, a team I watched numerous times during qualification. As was evident from their display against England, the Central Americans are very well organised, physical and this wont be an easy game for the French. Honduras don’t seem to have much in an attacking sense and an early goal for the French could see them coming out comfortable winners.
France’s second match against Switzerland is seen by most as their most difficult match of the group but I have to disagree. Having watched Ecuador in a number of games in the South American qualifiers, the power and technique of the Ecuadorians could trouble ‘Les Bleus‘ more than the Swiss.
Deschamp – Decision Maker
Much has been said about Didier Deschamp’s bold decision to leave Samir Nasri out of the World Cup squad but I feel he has correct as Nasri has shown time and time again that he has been one of the main culprits during the disharmony in the French side over the past few years. Mathieu Valbuena is a more than able replacement, a player who has extreme talent and will give 100% every time he puts on that blue shirt. The same cant’ be said for Samir Nasri.
France were dealt a massive blow last week with the news that their most influential player, Frank Ribery, will miss the tournament due to a back injury. This could have been a crushing blow to French hopes, but they should have enough quality to progress to the latter stages of the competition. Karim Benzema has never really been able to perform well on a consistent basis for ‘Les Bleus’, but with Ribery out its time for the talented Real Madrid striker to step up to the task and show the level of performance he is capable of. He may be employed on the left hand side of a front three, with Olivier Giroud playing through the centre, giving him the freedom to cut in from the left hand side and shoot at goal***????
Paul Pogba has only played 11 times for the national side, however he has shown great maturity as well as ability during the past two seasons for Juventus and more recently the national side. I feel he could be vital for the French if they are to go far into the latter stages of the tournament. At only 21 years old, he is already one of the worlds most talented and complete midfielders and will be a handful for any team. If he can perform to the level that he has on a consistent basis in Serie A, the French will have a very powerful weapon at their disposal.
Possible French starting 11:
Predicting how France will do in a major tournament is almost impossible, but it usually seems to be one extreme or the other. This time around I am quietly confident that ‘Les Blues’ should progress to at least the quarter finals but feel that defensively, especially Koscienly and Evra, they are not strong enough to go much further. Like most French football fans, I will be happy with some good performances during the competition and to hopefully regain some of the pride we once had.