How quickly things can change in football.
Just last November, France were defeated 2-0 by Ukraine in the World Cup playoffs. Hopes of qualifying for the tournament were looking bleak, with many of the French faithful preparing for the worst. Against the odds though, Les Bleus managed to turn the tie around in the second leg with a 3-0 victory in Paris.
Consider France's results at the past few tournaments:
USA '94 - Did not qualify
France '98 - Winners
Korea/Japan 2002 - Group Stage (Failing to score a single goal)
Germany 2006 - Runners Up
South Africa 2010 - Group Stage
Write off France at your peril. Regarding the World Cup, it has been a roller coaster ride. Didier Deschamps's side will still be haunted by their abysmal showing at South Africa four years ago, but how far they can progress at Brazil will largely depend on the players.
Will Deschamps bring a team motivated to overcome the demons of South Africa, determined to follow in the footsteps of legends like Zinedine Zidane and Lillian Thruam, or will we see a repeat of the horror show of the previous tournament?
Drawn in Group E, probably one of the easiest groups of the eight, France suddenly find themselves in a position to progress far in Brazil in an amazing change of fortunes. The French will play Honduras, followed by Switzerland, before wrapping up against Ecuador. On paper, it seems that France would easily breeze past as group winners, and they do indeed possess the quality to beat all three sides. However, if France lapse into complacency, there's always a chance for them to slip up.
Assuming they do qualify top of Group E, a possible clash against Bosnia & Herzegovina or Nigeria, recently crowned kings of Africa, awaits them. Indeed, difficult opponents, but beatable. Playing in the first ever World Cup, the Bosnians might be plagued by a lack of experience, whilst Nigeria are capable of causing an upset. However, France will certainly be labelled as the favourites should they meet either of these two teams in the round of 16. On to the quarter-finals, should everything go according to script for France, comes their first real test, a potential clash against hot favourites Germany.
The Germans will go into the competition with huge pressure on them to win a trophy. They haven't won a major title since Euro ’96, and for a nation used to international success that is an unacceptable drought. This pressure for Die Mannschaft could ultimately work in France's favour, as the onus would be on the Germans to win the game.
It remains to be seen if the Germans mentally strong enough to win. France would go into this clash as the underdogs, but the result could go either way in an extremely tight game with small margin for error. One small mistake could possibly hand victory to the other team in an even contest.
Should France clear the major hurdle of overcoming Germany, a likely clash against the Selecao beckons for them. Brazil would go into the match as overwhelming favourites, despite having a poor record against France in World Cup meetings. Brazil lost to France on penalties in 1986, in the final 1998, and more recently in 2006 at the quarter-final stage. Once again, being the underdogs would suit the French, though it would take a huge effort to overcome the Brazilians, as the latter would have home advantage, cheered on by the thousands of passionate fans.
If everything goes to plan, without a single blip, France would likely face Argentina or Spain in the final. Although many respectable pundits doubt they can progress this far, anything can happen in a final.
It might seem a fanciful notion that France could get this far and many things would be required to fall in place for Les Bleus to reach the final or even win the World Cup. What France have though, is a fantastic combination of talented youth & experience. If Deschamps is able to bring them together, allowing everyone to play to the best of their abilities, he has at his disposal a unit that is certainly capable of going far.
Albeit having barely qualified through the playoffs, Deschamps has a plethora of options to choose from. Youngsters like Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann will be looking to make their mark at the international stage, with the trio already attracting interest from many top clubs.
In goal, Les Bleus will have one of the best sweeper-keepers in the modern day game at their beckon call, in the form of captain Hugo Lloris. At the heart of the defence, Patrice Evra possesses the experience and leadership qualities required to lead the team, motivating the players to push on and fight for every ball.
Up top, no doubt the loss of Franck Ribery will be a massive blow for France, but they have a readymade replacement in Griezmann. European Cup winner Karim Benzema will likely start as first choice centre forward, ably supported by Olivier Giroud and Loic Remy, who after a troubled season due to injury will provide a tremendous option as a wildcard off the bench with his pace to stretch defences.
However perhaps France's key weapon to progress to the final stages of the tournament lies in their rock solid midfield unit. The trio of Blaise Matuidi, Yohan Cabaye and Paul Pogba have formed a solid coalition and Les Blues boast arguably one of the most talented midfields in the entire tournament.
Although critics may argue that France's midfield lack a creative maestro comparable to the likes of Italy's Andrea Pirlo or Spain's Xavi Hernandez, what matters most is that the talented trio function superbly as a unit. The three midfielders are multi talented and extremely combative. Not only do Matuidi, Cabaye and Pogba all possess fantastic technical ability and distribution skills, they also boast great stamina, a willingness to break up play and an excellent physical presence.
Matuidi is an exceptional all-round talent, while Cabaye is the brains behind the three, using his brilliant vision to distribute the ball and create from deep. Pogba is the driving force of the unit, being one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the world, allowing play to switch from defense to attack swiftly.
On the surface, it might seem tough for France to go all the way in Brazil. Most probably, they will fall short in the quarter-finals and exit at the hands of Germany or Brazil. The success of Deschamps in bringing the best out of his three-man midfield, ensuring that they continue to exert the same level of authority on games that they have enjoyed in the buildup to the tournament, will prove vital in France's bid for glory.
If the squad moves in the right direction, with key players like Benzema, Pogba & Griezmann hitting top form and Deschamps getting his tactics spot on, there's no reason why France cannot make a decent push for the latter stages in the tournament.
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