France will look to put the ghosts of 2010 firmly in the past as they head to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.
Four years ago, the French squad famously refused to train following Nicolas Anelka's dismissal from the team. Les Bleus finished bottom of Group A, picking up one point from three matches.
While Raymond Domenech was criticized for losing control of the team and generally being incompetent, much of the blame fell at the door of Patrice Evra, who was captain at the time, and thus the spokesman for the players during the protest.
In the December issue of When Saturday Comes, James Eastham wrote that France's failures in South Africa are still a sticking point with some in the French media:
After “Knysna”—shorthand for the incident in South Africa – many in the media called for Evra never to play for France again. Instead, he was handed a five-match ban. The media can, of course, voice their disapproval about him as often as they like, but it’s mystifying how much attention the players’ strike continues to get – it is the backdrop for all coverage of the national team. Read the press before and after every fixture and you’d be forgiven for thinking it happened last week, not in 2010. As Evra said: “How long are we going to keep talking about Knysna?”
Now Didier Deschamps is in to try to bring some stability back to the squad. Things didn't look good after the first leg of France's World Cup playoff with Ukraine, but their 3-0 win in the second leg makes you believe that this is a different team.
After the win, Karim Benzema said, per BBC Sport, "We showed we are a great team. If we play like this we can go far [at the World Cup]."
Deschamps added, "It was important for French football to be in Brazil. When we've got the ingredients we can do great things."
It's all about getting the right draw and building momentum at the right time. If France hit a good run of form and avoid the likes of Germany, Argentina, Brazil and Italy, they could make it to the final. The chances are slim, but they're a lot better than they were four years ago and even two years ago at the Euros.
Drawing arguably the easiest group of the tournament will certainly help. Ecuador, Switzerland and Honduras will be tricky, but you can't expect to get a cakewalk in the World Cup. The French should finish at least second in that group.
From there, anything can happen in the knockout stage. France have the pure talent to match almost any side in the world.
As demonstrated in both 2010 and 2012, though, petty drama off the pitch can prove to be the undoing of the team's performance on it.
Here are the players that Deschamps is taking with him to Brazil:
|DF||Raphael Varane||Real Madrid|
|DF||Patrice Evra||Manchester United|
|MF||Yohan Cabaye||Paris Saint-Germain|
|MF||Blaise Matuidi||Paris Saint-Germain|
|FW||Karim Benzema||Real Madrid|
|FW||Antoine Griezmann||Real Sociedad|
|FW||Franck Ribéry||Bayern Munich|
Based on that roster, this is one of the most likely starting XIs that the manager will deploy once the competition begins:
|GK||Hugo Lloris||Tottenham Hotspur|
|LB||Patrice Evra||Manchester United|
|CM||Blaise Matuidi||Paris Saint-Germain|
|LM||Franck Ribery||Bayern Munich|
|CAM||Yohan Cabaye||Paris Saint-Germain|
|ST||Karim Benzema||Real Madrid|
You can lock Hugo Lloris, Franck Ribery and Patrice Evra into the lineup. Lloris is the captain; Ribery is one of the best players in the world; and it would seem a little too early to feature Lucas Digne in the first team, so Evra is the next best option.
The other players whose places seem secured are Benzema, Laurent Koscielny and Mamadou Sakho. They've played well enough with their respective clubs that they should have earned a first-team role.
Where will France finish the 2014 World Cup?
Deschamps will no doubt have a tough decision to make in midfield. In the event he opts for a 4-2-3-1, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi would make a nice combination in the double pivot. They're both naturally central midfielders, and their styles aren't too similar that France would run into the kind of problem that Germany did when they played Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger together in 2012.
Yohan Cabaye has been in and out of the first team at Paris Saint-Germain since arriving from Newcastle, but there's no questioning his ability. Cabaye gives Deschamps a little more flexibility as he can sit deeper or play a little more advanced in the attack. A 4-2-3-1 could easily shift to a 4-3-3 with Cabaye, Pogba and Matuidi as a midfield trio.
Right-back and right-midfield are also up in the air. Bacary Sagna and Mathieu Debuchy are both viable options at the back. Sagna is the more established name, but Debuchy is arguably having a better season.
Deschamps has used Loic Remy and Mathieu Valbuena most often in the RM/RW position. At his best Remy can be a difference-maker, but his form is a bit too patchy at times. Valbuena is the more reliable of the two. Given how poorly the last two tournaments have gone for France, Deschamps may want to have somebody he can count on.
Julien Laurens of Le Parisien broke down the roster:
No surprises by Deschamps. Grenier considered fit enough to be there. No Nasri, Abidal, Payet, Cllichy, Diaby or Gignac as expected— Julien Laurens (@LaurensJulien) May 13, 2014
Everything is there for Les Bleus to have a massive turnaround from four years ago, and they turned a corner during the comeback against Ukraine. If you're looking for one country outside the major favorites, France are your team.
Plus, whether they're playing good or bad, they will be one of the most fun teams to watch in Brazil.