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World Cup 2018: Favourites Team Profile – France

PROFILE

Nickname: Les Bleus (The Blues)

Group: C

Best World Cup: Champions, 1998

Last World Cup: Quarter-finals, 2014

Odds to win: 6/1 (Bet365)

 

HOW DID THEY REACH A WORLD CUP?

France qualified for the World Cup in Russia with seven wins out of 10 in Group A, four points ahead of Sweden, who pipped four-time finalists Netherlands for the play-off spot.

Les Bleus largely breezed through the qualification with an impressive 4-1 win over the Dutch outfit, but their only hiccup came against Sweden, where they were downed 2-1, while a 0-0 draw with minnows Luxembourg is not encouraging.

Yet, this young, attacking French side continues to show its potential to be illustrious and vibrant.

In a World Cup warm-up fixture, Didier Deschamps’ men registered a comfortable 2-0 win over Republic of Ireland with Olivier Giroud getting on the scoresheet to make him Les Bleus’ fifth all-time top scorer.

Three days later, the French side continued their winning ways against four-time World Cup winners Italy winning 3-1 with goals from Barcelona duo Samuel Umtiti and Dembele and Barca target Griezmann who converted from the penalty spot.

France have one remaining World Cup warm-up match against USA tonight before opening their campaign against Australia on 16th June.


MANAGER – DIDIER DESCHAMPS

Didier Deschamps knows how to win the World Cup. He did so in 1998 when he captained his France side to victory and then Euro 2000 after.

Yet, he has failed to deliver as a manager despite turning France into a highly competitive team once again. Another golden generation beckons for France, with an abundance of stars from Hugo Lloris and Raphael Varane, to Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba.

In major tournaments, things have not gone their way with a group stage exit in South Africa in 2010, quarter-finals defeat to Germany in Brazil four years later. On home soil, they bottled the pressure of favourites in the final of Euro 2016, losing out to Portugal.

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If the 49-year old fails once again, it would seem his position would become untenable, leaving the door open for Zinedine Zidane, 45, who recently stepped down as Real Madrid manager.


STAR PLAYER – ANTOINE GRIEZMANN

Deschamps is blessed with quality all over the pitch, every position has a top player. The depth of the French national team has seen the likes of Anthony Martial, Karim Benzema, Dimitri Payet (through injury) and record Manchester City signing Aymeric Laporte all miss out.

There is a lot of star power in this side, I could have easily named most of the squad to play huge influences. Kylian Mbappe, Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Varane, Lloris – the list would go on but the Atletico Madrid forward nudges it after another excellent season in LaLiga.

Overshadowed in the Spanish top flight with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi taking all the limelight, the 27-year old has hit the 30-mark for goals consistently once again and a magnificent man-of-the-match performance in the Europa League final to put the icing on the cake.

Not built as a conventional striker, the Macon-born forward’s ability to hold up play and allow players to get in behind are a major key in the way France go about their attacking play.

His versatility is another bonus, he can play across all attacking positions and with the manager preferring to add Giroud into the mix off the bench, Griezmann is well drilled in playing as a part of a front two.


ONE TO WATCH – THOMAS LEMAR

The 22-year old is one to keep an eye on and transfer speculation upon him will be rife throughout the World Cup. His eight assists this season have been rather underwhelming but he could have been affected by a failed £92 million deadline day move to Arsenal last summer.

Competition for places could see the best come out of Lemar, with the right-wing spot between him and Ousmane Dembele. The Barcelona foward has had a shaky start to life in Spain after injury but the Monaco winger’s eye for goal from set pieces could see him start above his fellow countryman.

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His stock will continue to rise at the World Cup, as Europe’s elite look to lure him away from the riches of Monaco.

CHANCES OF SPAIN PLAYING FRANCE

With both anticipated to win their groups, the two European giants would only meet in either the final or third-place play-off.

Yet, should either fail to claim top spot in their group, not forgetting Spain did not reach the knockout rounds four years ago and a Zidane and Thierry Henry-inspired French side suffered in 2002, they would be on target to meet in the quarter-finals.

WORLD CUP PREDICTIONS

This is last chance saloon for the manager and it could be a blessing in disguise. France’s defensive vulnerabilities do cause a huge concern especially with the injured Laurent Koscielny unavailable, but hopes are pinned on Real Madrid’s Varane and Umtiti of Barcelona to protect Lloris.

Les Bleus’ midfield will play a huge factor on how they go about this World Cup and whether they will go in with two in middle, along with pacey attacking outlets on the flanks, or as a three is still undecided.

Deschamps’ will do well to get the best out of Pogba, whether that is in a two-man midfield or three, as when he is on form, the Manchester United star can open spaces for the French forwards and start mesmerising counter-attacks with his speed and movement.

Should the coach get it spot on, a semi-final would be an expected target, but with their talent, they could be looking for a place in the final, with an upset or two along the way.

WORLD CUP SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Alphone Areola, Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda.

Defenders: Lucas Hernandez, Presnel Kimpembe, Benjamin Pavard, Benjamin Mendy, Djibril Sidibe, Adil Rami, Samuel Umtiti, Raphael Varane.

Midfielders: Blaise Matuidi, N’Golo Kante, Steven N’Zonzi, Paul Pogba, Corentin Tolisso.

Forwards: Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar, Nabil Fekir, Florian Thauvin, Ousmane Dembele.

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