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France vs. Georgia: Key Battles to Watch in World Cup Qualifier

Jonathan JohnsonFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2013

France vs. Georgia: Key Battles to Watch in World Cup Qualifier

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    France come into Friday's clash with Georgia at the Stade de France locked on seven points with reigning World and European champions Spain in Group I.

    A win against the Georgians would give Les Bleus a six-point lead in the current race for second place heading into their clash with the Spaniards in the capital next week.

    The Crusaders themselves are in mixed form having beaten Belarus in Tbilisi most recently.

    However, defeats in Minsk and then at home to Spain, along with a draw in Finland, have arguably already cost the Georgians a chance of a surprise second spot.

    With France coach Didier Deschamps opting to call up a number of promising young talents, the match will be a battle of two teams focusing on youngsters. Deschamps could be tempted to rest some players ahead of the Spain clash though, with a number of potential suspensions on the table.

    Meanwhile, under the guidance of eccentric former international Temuri Ketsbaia, Georgia are attempting to move out of the shadow of an illustrious generation of former talent by focusing on youth.

    Current stars like Spartak Moscow's Jano Ananidze, Empoli's Levan Mchedlidze and Karpaty Lviv's former Schalke 04 midfielder Levan Kenia are the new hopes of the nation.

    They replace former stars Shota Arveladze, Kakhaber Kaladze, Levan Kobiashvili and Alexander Iashvili, nearly all of whom are now retired.

    Here are the five key positional battles as I see it on Friday.

Hugo Lloris V Nukri Revishvili

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    Hugo Lloris' position in goal for France is undisputed. The best goalkeeper in the country by far, the captain has managed to overcome his struggles to dislodge veteran presence Brad Friedel at club level and is now the undisputed No. 1 under Andre Villas-Boas.

    An established international, Revishvili finds himself behind Andrey Sinitsyn for FC Krasnodar in the Russian League at club level. However, he remains a key player for Georgia despite the lack of regular match practice.

    Lloris is vital to the French setup, not only in his position on the pitch but off it too as a leader. Without a better outfield alternative for the moment, the 26-year-old continues as captain ahead of the likes of Patrice Evra.

    Revishvili is likely to be overworked at the Stade de France, despite a probable revamped French side. His ability to thwart Les Bleus' attackers will be key to Georgia's hopes of claiming a point.

    On the other hand, expect Lloris to enjoy a quiet night on Friday.

Raphael Varane V Zurab Khizanishvili

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    Real Madrid's Raphael Varane earned a well-deserved call-up as Valencia's Adil Rami misses out through injury. The 19-year-old is expected to be given a chance from the start against Georgia and could pair up alongside Mamadou Sakho or Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.

    Varane's performances this season for Real Madrid have caught the eye of Deschamps ad the youngster is already establishing himself at club level despite his young age. A mature performance on Friday could see him keep his place for the visit of Spain next week.

    In the Georgian camp though, veteran defender and captain Zurab Khizanishvili will have the unenviable task of preparing to face any of Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud, Bafetimbi Gomis and Loic Remy.

    The Kayserispor defender will have his hands full and France should have too much for the Georgians going forward.

    The match is an ideal opportunity for Varane. It gives him another taste of football on the international stage against a team that Les Bleus should be beating. But with all due respect, it gives Deschamps a chance to blood the former Lens star with little risk to the result.

Paul Pogba V Jano Ananidze

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    Paul Pogba's rise this season with Juventus has been impressive. Signed from Manchester United last summer, the 20-year-old midfielder is enjoying his first season of regular first team action.

    With five goals in 21 appearances to his name thus far, the Frenchman is becoming a regular in the Old Lady's starting line-ups under Antonio Conte.

    Pogba has been likened to former Juventus and French international star Patrick Vieira by 1998 World Cup winner Alain Boghossian. He has also adequately filled in for Bianconeri star Andrea Pirlo when the evergreen midfielder has been unavailable at times this season.

    His key battle will be with Spartak Moscow starlet Jano Ananidze who is slowly rising to fame having made his debut for the Red-Whites at 16 years old.

    Also the youngest goal scorer in Russian Premier League history at 17, three years later he is already establishing himself as a vital player for Ketsbaia's Georgia.

    Lightweight, but technically brilliant and possessing terrific ball control, the potential duel between the two 20-year-olds will be important.

Dimitri Payet V Levan Kenia

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    The same goes for Dimitri Payet and Levan Kenia. Whilst the Frenchman is tearing up Ligue 1 with doubles figures in both goals and assists this season (10 of each), Kenia's career has dipped since joining Schalke 04 as a highly rated 16-year-old prodigy from Lokomotiv Tbilisi.

    The move to Gelsenkirchen didn't work out though and Kenia now plays in the Ukrainian Premier League with Karpaty Lviv but is still only 22 years of age.

    Likely no match for Payet's creativity, Georgia will be relying on Ananidze and erratic striker Levan Mchedlidze if they are to take something from the match on Friday.

Loic Remy V Levan Mchedlidze

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    Mchedlidze's duel will likely be with Queen's Park Rangers striker Loic Remy if Deschamps does rotate his side. He could equally decide to stick with Karim Benzema though in an effort to spark the misfiring striker into life on the international stage.

    Olivier Giroud and Bafetimbi Gomis are other possibilities but will likely be saved for the clash with Spain next week.

    There is no question who looks more of a goal threat though as the Georgian has yet to find the net for club side Empoli in Serie B this season.

    The Azzurri are currently fourth in the Italian second tier, but that is not thanks to Mchedlidze. Instead those goals have been supplied by former Valencia and Roma striker Francesco Tavano and the on-loan Massimo Maccarone.

    In fact, the 22-year-old only has two goals in 19 senior games to his name for the Crusaders.

    Regardless of whether Remy, Benzema, Giroud or Gomis start though, they all look prolific in comparison to that sort of tally.

    Georgia will likely look toothless in attack compared to Les Bleus on Friday.

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