World Soccer looks at the chances of France at this year's World Cup finals. After the debacle in South Africa four years ago, they must be better this time around.
Memories are short in football. But nowhere are they shorter than in France. After almost missing out on qualification for Brazil, now that “Les Bleus” are there – after overturning a 2-0 first-leg deficit to beat Ukraine in a play-off – the French public is happy to talk up their team’s chances of reaching the Final. Daft as it sounds, though, with France anything is possible.
It’s in France’s footballing DNA to always expect the unexpected. They have always been technically strong, yet their World Cup performances have yo-yoed from the sublime to the ridiculous. You only have to look at the previous two competitions to spot the madness.
In 2006 they made it to the Final only to lose on penalties to Italy in Berlin. And the team’s fine performance on the day was all but forgotten in the aftermath of the Zinedine Zidane head-butt incident.
Four years later they went home early with their tails between their legs after finishing bottom of Group A without a win and scoring only one goal. And the infamous player revolt in Knysna, where the squad refused to train after Nicolas Anelka had been sent home after criticising coach Raymond Domenech, further tarnished France’s reputation.
So which France will turn up in 2014? Who knows? But what can be said is that the squad is packed with outstanding young talent.
Hugo Lloris is a quality goalkeeper, central defender Raphael Varane is mature beyond
his years and a born leader, Paul Pogba is an outstanding midfield prospect and, at 26, Karim Benzema is at the peak of his attacking powers. With a spine like that you’ve always got a chance. And that’s without mentioning one of the best players in the world, Franck Ribery.
No team will fancy taking on the French, but do they have enough strength in depth? If a key man gets injured they may get knocked off course. Drawn in what looks like a ridiculously easy group alongside Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras, it will be another national scandal if France fail to progress to the knockout stage.
Age 45 (15.10.68). France coach since July 2012
How he got the job
Was unhappy as coach of Marseille following differences with sporting director Jose Anigo when the call came to replace Laurent Blanc after a disappointing Euro 2012 campaign.
Past successes as a coach
Took Monaco to the Champions League Final in 2004, led Juventus to the Serie B title in 2007 after a financial scandal saw them demoted, and won the French league with Marseille in 2010.
Past failures as a coach
None on a sporting level, but fractious personal relationships at Juventus and Marseille led to a parting of the ways.
Achievements as a player
Captained the national side to World Cup glory on home soil in 1998 before going on to win Euro 2000.
World Cup experience
For a player with 103 caps, he only appeared in the 1998 finals after France failed to qualify in both 1990 and 1994. This is his first World Cup as a coach.
Relationship with the media
Spikey. He’s not slow in putting a journalist down with a withering comment if he feels the need and often refuses to discuss subjects relating to player selection.
Relationship with the public
Lifted the World Cup in front of an adoring French public, so he’s got plenty of credit in the bank.
Style of management/coaching
A big fan of the collective, not afraid to ruffle individual feathers and make big decisions if he has to.
Notable backroom staff
His assistant, Guy Stephan, was number two to former France boss Domenech and also coached Senegal before joining Deschamps at Marseille.
After the World Cup
Signed a contract extension until 2016 following qualification for Brazil.
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Mickaël Landreau (Bastia)
Defenders: Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle United), Lucas Digne (PSG) Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Eliaquim Mangala (Porto), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Raphaël Varane (Real Madrid)
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (PSG), Rémy Cabella (Montpelier), Blaise Matuidi (PSG), Rio Mavuba (Lille), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton)
Forwards: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad), Loïc Rémy (Newcastle).
Group E fixtures
Jun 15 v Honduras (Porto Alegre)
Jun 20 v Switzerland (Salvador)
Jun 25 v Ecuador (Rio de Janeiro)