Paris, France | AFP | With a potent attack featuring teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe and Atletico Madrid hotshot Antoine Griezmann and a midfield stuffed with talent, France should be among the World Cup favourites.
With Alexandre Lacazette offering yet another attacking threat, a top-class goalkeeper in Hugo Lloris and depth at virtually every position, France coach Didier Deschamps will approach Friday’s draw in Moscow with confidence.
“I think France will be very strong. When you have a trio like Griezmann, Lacazette and Mbappe, you have a strong team. The experience that the team has from a generation of veteran players, backed up by these young players, makes them a candidate to win the title,” Brazil coach told Canal Plus TV ahead of the draw.
Yet Deschamps will recall that since he himself lifted the trophy after the glorious victory on home soil in 1998, France have suffered as much World Cup pain as pleasure.
In 2002, Zinedine Zidane limped into South Korea with a hamstring injury and never looked the player who had inspired the victory over Brazil four years earlier. France, thoroughly humiliated, crashed out in the group stage.
– Self-destruction –
Zidane was back stronger and fitter four years later though, driving his team to the final against Italy in Berlin only to infamously lose his cool with a headbutt to the chest of Marco Materazzi. He was sent off and France lost.
In South Africa in 2010, France self-destructed amid a players’ revolt against idiosyncratic coach Raymond Domenech.
In 2014, eventual winners Germany sent them home after the quarter-finals.
France made heavy work of a relatively lightweight qualifying group for the 2018 tournament, with a 0-0 draw against tiny Luxembourg one of the most baffling results.
That is perhaps why Deschamps refuses to make rash predictions — he just wants his team “to go as far as possible” in Russia.
Midfield livewire Blaise Matuidi said the team realised they sometimes failed to amount to the sum of their parts, but he predicted that the big guns would be wary of them.
Speaking after a 2-2 draw in a friendly against Germany on November 14, Matuidi said: “Of course we can always do better, but we showed tonight that we are a force to be reckoned with at the World Cup, and Germany will have taken note of that.”
And the talent just comes coming, with that offensive unit complemented by Nabil Fekir, who has shone for Lyon this season, while many coaches in the world would like to build their team around midfield powerhouse N’Golo Kante.
So when Russia 2018 dawns, France’s prospects would appear to largely depend on whether the players are in the right frame of mind.