FIFA World Cup Prospectus: France
By Tom Blanton
Football.com will countdown the remaining time leading up to the World Cup with a 32-day preview of each team that will be participating. For those of you who want to know each team inside and out, the 32-Day 2014 FIFA World Cup Prospectus is the World Cup preview.
Group C: Japan
Group E: Switzerland
Group F: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Group G: United States
Nickname: Les Bleus
FIFA Ranking: 16
World Cup Appearances: 1930, 1934, 1938, 1954, 1958, 1966, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010
How Did They Qualify: Runner-up in Group I of UEFA’s 2014 World Cup qualification
What Group Are They In: Group E
Opponents (Match Dates): Honduras (6/15) Switzerland (6/20) Ecuador (6/25)
Projected Finish In Group E: 1st
Why They Will Finish First In Group E:
Though all four countries are ranked in the top 30, Switzerland is the only other team in the top 20, ranked at eight. If France is able to get it completely together in time for its first matchup, the momentum and talent will have a proper foundation to flourish. After earning their spot in Brazil by just one goal during the World Cup Qualification Play-Off bout with Ukraine, the team will have to rally, unify, and band together under the Tricolour more fluidly than they have been to prosper this summer.
After disappointing their country four years ago, the players have more on the line than they otherwise might have. That is why they will step up and finish on top of Group E – they have to.
Keeper: Hugo Lloris, 27, is also captain of France’s squad. With Tottenham Hotspur since 2012, the Frenchman started his country’s group stage matches in the 2010 edition, but lost more potential experience when his team failed to advance. Likewise, Lloris has only played club ball in two different countries, which might limit his versatility compared to other countries’ keepers. Regardless, with 52 international caps, the seasoned shot-stopper is an ideal leader and a player others will have no problem trusting between the posts.
Defense: Defensively, France has some key weapons. But like the team as a whole, those weapons must find their collective stride to pose any real threat to the onslaught of opponents’ attacking prowess.
Manchester United’s Patrice Evra will helm the backfield, accompanied by Arsenal veteran Bacary Sagna. Together, the duo forms the foundation of a formidable wall in front of Lloris. Against the three other countries in their group, which lack weapons of the Messi caliber, France’s defensemen should be able to get the job done if they can find their comradery.
Midfield: Franck Ribéry. Need more be said? The 2013 Ballon d’Or finalist and Bayern Munich winger is France’s shining light and the player who will feel the weight of his country’s hopes and expectations more than any other. But that shouldn’t be a concern. The 31-year-old midfielder has overcome the pressures of a UEFA Champions League final and four DFB-Pokal finals. He has also represented France in the past two World Cups, helping his country to the final of the 2006 edition before losing to Italy.
Young Juventus ace Paul Pogba is a notable addition to this year’s midfield, and will be a player to keep an eye on. At 21, the aficionado has already garnered experience playing in the top tiers of England and Italy, and has caught the attention of Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Real Madrid. Though relatively untested under the international pressure he will face this summer, his recent form with Juventus is a good sign for France.
Saint-Germain’s Yohan Cabaye and Marseille’s Mathieu Valbuena also deserve a mention, rounding out the core of France’s lineup. Nevertheless, Ribéry will be crucial to France’s ability or inability to allow the forwards to find the net.
Forwards: France’s best hope of getting points on the board falls on the shoulders of Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema. The 26-year-old striker was left off the 2010 World Cup roster after a sex scandal rotated through world headlines. But even without experience in the sport’s biggest tournament, Benzema’s international resume stands more impressive than his counterparts’ – 19 goals in 65 caps.
Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud is another forward included on France’s roster. He's a good option up top with Benzema, assuming the two-striker format the country is known for is to be utilized.
With Ribéry setting up shots, the forwards should have ample opportunities to get the ball in the back of the net. He could also be used up top, which would more thoroughly allow his propensity for scoring goals to prosper.
Coaching: At 24-years-old, current France manager Didier Deschamps captained Marseille to the 1993 UEFA Champions League title – the first and only time a French club has won the title. The French midfielder later took his talents to Chelsea, Juventus and Valencia, playing in four of Europe’s elite leagues by the time he retired in 2001. Needless to say, his experience and expertise as a player can hardly be questioned.
As a manager, Deschamps has taken the reigns of Monaco, Juventus, Marseille, and, as of 2012, the French national team. His most illustrious managerial performance came with Juventus between 2006-07, when the Italian giants lost only 2 of the 44 matches played under his leadership. With France, however, the team has won only half of the 22 matches played since Deschamps took over the coach’s seat.
Nonetheless, he led his country to a spot in the Cup, as turbulent as it was. His international coaching career is still in its early days, but he’s proven to be a solid manager who knows how to get the most from his players.
How can they win the World Cup:
France’s team would have to dramatically flounder to fail to make it out of the group stage. The country’s roster includes more elite players than the other three in Group E, and it would be a shocking blow if they don’t obtain the points to advance.
The knockout stage will, of course, be more difficult. France would have to take on more recently proven European and South American powerhouses. That said, the squad will have to be at the top of their game to overcome Germany’s aggressiveness, Argentina’s speed, Spain’s tiki-taka, and Brazil’s swiftness. With a little luck, it’s possible – anything is possible during the World Cup – but it’s unlikely.
What can go wrong:
According to France’s tribulations in 2010, a lot. Deschamps must do everything he can to keep the team united and leave controversy as far away as possible. Four years ago, the team’s unity, or perhaps lack thereof, is what eventually led to the notorious crash and burn.
If Ribéry were to become injured, that would also be a terrible blow to the heart, soul and potential momentum of the French national side. The squad needs his leadership and experience if it is going to make a real run at the trophy.
For the 2014 World Cup, France will be sporting a patriotic uniform reminiscent of previous kits, but simpler. The jersey is navy blue, the shorts white, and the socks red — the colors of the French flag. But unlike recent kits, the torso will be straight navy blue with a white color, straying away from the flashy red stripes seen on those of recent years.
What's there to like about France:
France is one of the most visited countries in the world, and rightfully so. Paris, the country's capital and most populous city, boasts the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Louvre Pyramid. The country also offers beautiful countryside, glorious coasts and bountiful historical relics throughout its borders. Throw in a plate of delicious ratatouille, thrown back with a glass of fine chardonnay, and what more could one ask