France head into this World Cup with two major questions still to be resolved. Who will form the vital central defensive partnership? How do they make the best use of the undoubted talents they have in attack?
Head Coach Raymond Domenech still hasn’t found a defender to partner the highly reliable William Gallas particularly convincingly. The likes of Jean-Alain Boumsong, Julien Escudé, Philippe Mexes and Michael Ciani have all been tried, but no player has yet made the position his own.
Meanwhile upfront, Domenech has yet to find the right blend to scare world class defences despite an abundance of riches. He can’t play both Franck Ribéry and the talismanic Thierry Henry wide left – and Ribéry isn’t nearly as effective when working elsewhere. Plus there are big doubts over whether Henry is still the force he once was. Nor does it seem that Nicolas Anelka and Karim Benzema, the country’s two most naturally gifted front men, are a natural fit.
On paper this French side isn’t as strong as the one that made the final back in 2006. There’s no Zidane, no Makelele, no Thuram, no Trezeguet. But the French still have as many naturally talented players in their ranks as almost any other side in the competition.
Ribéry has had an injury-troubled season, but this could work in France’s favour if he’s fit and hungry come show time. Florent Malouda is in the form of his life at Chelsea. And Jérémy Toulalan is one of the most underrated defensive midfielders in world football. How effectively Domenech creates a unit will define how well France do in 2010.
Team – 4-4-2
Lloris; Sagna, Escudé, Gallas, Evra; Toulalan, Diarra, Malouda, Ribéry; Anelka, Henry.