10 France World Cup Storylines No One Is Talking About
We are less than a month away from the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. As a nation France are getting ready for the tournament, and no one is quite sure what to expect from Les Bleus. They are not one of the favourites and are being deemed a dark horse for the event, which is something they are not quite used to.
Didier Deschamps named his 23-man squad for the tournament on Tuesday night and there were not many big surprises—the main talking point being the omission of Manchester City’s Samir Nasri—but anyone following the prospects of Les Bleus could have predicted this.
Going into this summer’s tournament, there are a number of interesting stories that could either turn into fairytales or nightmares, but the main accomplishment for France will be to leave Brazil with their heads held high and wiping away the memories of South Africa 2010.
Before we get to the Group E games, there are still plenty of stories to be told this summer. Here are 10 of the lesser publicised tales that are set to shape France’s World Cup campaign that starts June 15.
Is Laurent Koscielny Worthy of a Starting Spot
In a recent article published by Goal.com (in French), they used statistics from Opta to decide who would be included in France’s best 23-man squad. When measuring the French centre-backs, Koscielny was not ranked amongst the top five spots.
The main reason was due to his poor record in duels won both in the air and on the ground. On the ground he only won 57.9 percent—the worst of all eight defenders included. Aerially he was even worse, with his 54.1 percent of aerial duels won again the worst of all eight players measured.
In the Goal.com article Koscielny would not have been part of the France squad.
Deschamps is likely to start with Koscielny in Brazil as he has been one of Arsenal’s best players this season, and the consensus is that he deserves the starting spot. However when you look into the stats, you start to have your doubts.
No Love for Gael Clichy
After Deschamps announced his 30-man squad on Tuesday night, all the fallout regarding the exclusions surrounded the decision to leave out Nasri. At the same time there was quiet acceptance around the omission of Man City team-mate Gael Clichy.
The former Arsenal player was a member of the Euro 2012 squad, and it is only recently that has he lost his place. His last appearance on the pitch was in October when he replaced Patrice Evra during the 6-0 win over Australia, but now his place has been taken by Paris Saint-Germain full-back Lucas Digne.
Clichy has actually started more games than Digne this season, but the PSG youngster is highly regarded as France’s next starting left-back. The 19-year-old is the future, whereas the 28-year-old’s time seems to be up.
Why Is Loic Perrin on the Reserve List?
Anyone following the French national team will be aware of the strength in depth Les Bleus has when it comes to centre-backs. Some of the best and brightest defenders in Europe right now are part of the French system.
You have names such as Aymeric Laporte, Kurt Zouma and Samuel Umtiti, but the inclusion of Saint-Etienne centre-back Loic Perrin would have been a new name to some when looking through Deschamps’ 30-man list.
The 28-year-old has been at Saint-Etienne since 2003 and has been absolutely superb for them this season as Les Verts attempt to finish in the Champions League places. He is the squad’s top performer, according to WhoScored.com; he is their captain, their leader and an inspiration to the whole club.
During his time at ASSE he has played in midfield and at full-back, but has flourished when asked to play in the centre of defence. If one of Deschamps’ original picks is injured in the run-up to the World Cup, there will be no better equipped replacement than Loic Perrin.
No Caps for Sylvain Distin
Sylvain Distin has made over 400 appearances in English football and has played in a top flight at the club level for over 14 years, but not once he has represented his country at any level.
It would be far too late to include him in any France squad now, but it is a crime that he never once got to pull on Les Bleus jersey during his illustrious career. At times when France have struggled for leadership and prayed for some stability, Distin could have been that man.
The Everton defender was picked in the top 50 of Bleacher Report’s top 100 Premier League players this season, an excellent achievement for someone who is now 36 years old. That ranks him sixth amongst all Frenchman playing in England’s top division.
The day after Deschamps revealed his 23-man squad, Distin announced his retirement from international football. His announcement was very tongue in cheek.
"I'm retiring from France team. It was a wonderful experience and after a record of #0 cap it's time to say goodbye and focus on my club ;)"
Steve Mandanda Not Worthy of a Place in the Squad
The 2013/14 season has been a fairly disappointing campaign for Olympique de Marseille. They still have the chance to finish fifth in the league, but overall their season has been full of disruption, bad feeling and an overall malaise around the club.
This feeling has filtered into the performances of France’s No. 2 goalkeeper, and there is talk that Steve Mandanda no longer deserves his place as Hugo Lloris' back-up.
According to Squawka.com, Mandanda ranks ninth in Ligue 1 with his performance score. That puts French goalkeepers Cedric Carrasso, Benoit Costil and Stephane Ruffier ahead of him. He has only managed nine clean sheets this season, compared to Ruffier’s 16 and Costil’s 12.
It could be time for Deschamps to look elsewhere for France’s No. 2.
Take the Swiss Lightly at Your Peril
All the pre-tournament talk surrounds how easy Group E will be for France this summer. However, with Switzerland as France’s second game in the section, it could become a massive banana skin for Les Bleus.
In their last 12 competitive matches, the Swiss have only lost once, and that was back in October 2011 when they lost 2-0 away to Wales.
France are perennially slow starters in World Cup tournaments, so anything but a win against Honduras will make the second game against Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side a must-win match. Deschamps’ side cannot afford to slip up at this tournament, and if they were to crash out after events four years ago in South Africa, it would be a long, long road to recovery.
Mickael Landreau Set to Say Farewell After World Cup
Goalkeeper Mickael Landreau was the first name that Deschamps read out on Tuesday night, and it will be the last time that his name will ever be called out for team selection. The Bastia keeper has announced that he will be retiring at the end of the season, meaning that his place in the France squad will be his last outing as a professional player.
It is sad to think that one of the greatest goalkeepers France has ever produced will likely end his career with just 11 international caps. Landreau is currently the player in Ligue 1 history with the most league appearances after he passed Jean-Luc Ettori’s record of 602 games when he lined up for Bastia against rivals Ajaccio in December.
Landreau will finish his career with two league titles, three Coupe de France victories and 618 league appearances. It would be very fitting if he was able to win just one more cap before he retires in July.
France Squad Is Stronger 4 Years Later
Before everything went pear-shaped four years ago, there was a level of optimism about the France squad in 2010. A whole host of domestic players were picked by Raymond Domenech, and it was meant to bring the squad together.
At the time, 11 of the 23-man squad were playing their football in France. Only three of them will go to Brazil in June, with only two of them still playing in France. Hugo Lloris now plays for Tottenham, while Mathieu Valbuena and Steve Mandanda still play for Marseille.
Only eight players in the current international squad play their football in France, three of them for Paris Saint-Germain. Back in 2010 the current Ligue 1 champions had no one in the France team representing Les Rouge et Bleus. How times have changed.
Now, you have representatives from Bayern Munich, Juventus, Real Madrid, Arsenal and Real Sociedad. Only six players remain from the side that played in South Africa, and the balance and the strength of the team looks much improved.
Some may say that it shows a decline in the standards of Ligue 1, but it should represent the quality of players that the league is producing. Yes, it is a selling league, but it is producing players that teams want to buy. This has made the squad a much stronger prospect going into the 2014 tournament.
The Lack of Leadership Could Be a Problem in Brazil
France in the past have had some of the most memorable captains in world football. Figures such as Laurent Blanc, Didier Deschamps and Michel Platini represent some of the most successful images in France’s history, and that is something that the current squad lacks: a clear leader.
Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris will start as France’s captain this summer, but he just doesn’t have that same feeling of leadership that the heroes of the past exuded. Patrice Evra is a leader in the dressing room and around the squad, but his role in the 2010 disaster means that he won’t ever be made a visible captain.
Outside of those two players there is a lack of true leadership around the side. None of the other defenders or the midfield trio gives you that same sense of authority. International teams should have leaders all over the pitch, but it is the one area that France lacks any true quality—not just in who wears the armband, but who speaks up and leads the team on the pitch.
If France are to go far this summer, they will need some of their boys to become men in Brazil.
Last-Chance Saloon for Karim Benzema
Back when France beat Australia 6-0 in October, the most important part of that victory was not the six goals, but the one goal for striker Karim Benzema. His goal in the 50th minute was his first in 1,224 minutes for the national team, and you could hear the gasp of relief when he finally found the back of the net.
Since then, Benzema has also scored against the Netherlands, and his form for Real Madrid has been excellent this season. This tournament in Brazil is a huge chance for the former Lyon striker to finally show himself as a top-class striker—maybe it is also his last chance.
Benzema has never scored a goal for France at an international tournament. If he comes up short again in Brazil, there will be a call for him not to be included when they host the 2016 European Championships.
How many blank slates can you allow one striker? Firing blanks again this summer could spell the end for Benzema’s international career.