It feels like France’s time again.
Les Bleus’ last golden generation broke apart soon after defeat on penalties in the 2006 World Cup final, with dismal efforts at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup seeing them slide to an all time low FIFA ranking of 27.
However, the shoots of recovery have been more and more apparent in recent years under Didier Deschamps. They dazzled their way to the quarter finals of the last World Cup, before reaching the Euro 2016 final on home soil. Defeat to Portugal showed their inexperience, but this new generation now has the mettle as well as the talent to go far in Russia.
The forward line in particular is mouth-watering. Antoine Griezmann won the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball at Euro 2016 and he’s only gotten better since. The likes of Kylian Mbappe, Nabil Fekir and Ousmane Dembele weren’t even in the Euro 2016 squad but are now among the brightest young stars in world football.
France can call on an array of talent unheard of since the days of Zidane, Henry and Vieira. The days of hopeful optimism are over – only victory will do.
How They Qualified
Not as easily as they should have done, due to some moments of unbelievable complacency.
Drawn into a challenging group, France got off to a terrible start when they could only draw against Belarus in Minsk. Consecutive wins over their two biggest rivals, Sweden and the Netherlands, got them back on track, but defeat in Sweden left them battling for top spot.
A second inexplicable slip-up followed as they somehow failed to beat Luxembourg in Toulouse, but they closed out the group with wins over Bulgaria and Belarus to finish top by four points. Sweden’s defeat in Amsterdam made it look more comfortable than it was.
Undoubtedly the best result of qualifying was a 4-0 home win over the Netherlands, in which Mbappe and Thomas Lemar scored their first international goals. It was a rare goal haul for the French, who only scored 14 times in their other nine group games.
France shouldn’t have too much trouble with reaching the knockout stages, but none of their opponents are whipping boys in a wide open group.
They get their campaign under way against Australia on 16 June in Kazan. The Socceroos have won only one of their last nine World Cup games, and an unconvincing qualifying campaign means that they are regarded as the weakest team in Group C.
Next up is Peru in Yekaterinburg five days later. France captain Hugo Lloris was among those who wrote to FIFA asking that Peru captain Paolo Guerrero’s drugs ban be lifted, and indeed the ban has now been suspended, allowing him to play at the tournament.
France will hope to be through to the last 16 by the time they face Denmark in Moscow, but they may need a point to make sure. The Danes are likely to pose the biggest threat to France’s rule over the group.
Route to the Final
Assuming that France win the group – and they should – they will face the Group D runners up. That could be a repeat of 2014’s last 16 game against Nigeria or Euro 2016’s meeting with Iceland, but the most likely outcome is Croatia.
After that it gets more difficult to predict. A quarter final against Portugal would give them the chance to right some wrongs, before advancing to the semis where Brazil are the most likely opponents.
If they can navigate that game, it’ll probably be Spain, Germany or Argentina in the final. One way or another, France will have to beat the best to be the best.
France announced their 23-man squad on 18 May.
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda, Alphonse Areola
Defenders: Djibril Sidibe, Benjamin Pavard, Adil Rami, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Presnel Kimpembe, Benjamin Mendy, Lucas Hernandez
Midfielders: Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Corentin Tolisso, N’Golo Kante, Steven Nzonzi, Thomas Lemar
Forwards: Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, Florian Thauvin, Nabil Fekir
(4-3-3) Hugo Lloris; Benjamin Mendy, Samuel Umtiti, Raphael Varane, Djibril Sidibe; Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi; Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele
Necks on the line time: France will win the 2018 World Cup.
With established players enjoying the best years of their careers, new stars joining them and a manager who has been there every step of the way, France are perfectly equipped to stage a successful bid for World Cup glory.
The 2-0 win over Germany at Euro 2016 showed that this team can win the big games now, and even though they failed to win the biggest one yet, that is not a performance that the more experienced members of the team will allow them to repeat.
Many will look to Paul Pogba, the best young player at the 2014 World Cup, to lead the way to victory. But even if he doesn’t, it could be Griezmann, or Mbappe, or Dembele, or Fekir, or Lemar. The list goes on and on, and that’s why France have every chance. Their strength in depth is almost unparalleled. Numéro deux awaits for Les Bleus.