Welcome to the latest of our World Cup tactics boards, our series looking at each of the 32 qualified nations for the 2014 FIFA tournament in Brazil.
This time around we're looking at France, the mighty European nation led by Didier Deschamps. Despite winning the World Cup on home soil in 1998, they have twice failed to progress past the group stages in the three tournaments since then.
Having now named their squad for the finals in South America, they'll be hoping to return to the knockout stages this time around.
France are usually one of the favourites to win their qualifying group for major tournaments, but they had to do things the difficult way this time after being paired in the same group as reigning World and European champions Spain.
Things started well for France, with early wins over Finland and Belarus, by 1-0 and 3-1 respectively, giving them the ideal preparation for the trip to face Spain in the third round of matches.
Playing in Madrid, a last-minute Olivier Giroud goal gave France an unexpected 1-1 draw, and they went top of the group at the midway stage after beating Georgia 3-1 in the next fixture.
Even a draw in the next match against Spain would have put France in the driving seat to qualify automatically, but they suffered their only defeat of the group stage as they went down 1-0.
France lost their grip on the group entirely when they drew 0-0 with Georgia in Tbilisi, which meant they needed victories in their last two games to ensure second place and a play-off spot.
Franck Ribery scored twice to help France come from behind in the 4-2 win in Belarus, before the Bayern Munich man opened the scoring against Finland, a game which France eventually won 3-0, with Karim Benzema netting his first competitive international goal in 25 months to wrap things up.
With second place sealed, three points behind Spain, France faced a two-legged play-off against Ukraine to win a place in Brazil.
The first leg couldn't have gone much worse; France lost 2-0 in Kiev and had Laurent Koscielny sent off, meaning he would miss the return fixture. Deschamps made five changes to his starting XI from the first leg and saw his team triumph 3-0 for a 3-2 aggregate win, with two goals coming for Mamadou Sakho either side of a Benzema aggregate equaliser.
Formation and Style
Under Deschamps, France have most frequently played a clear 4-2-3-1, operating with two athletic central midfielders who can both win back the ball and break forward when required.
Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi have emerged as the preferred duo for this role, with their combination of immense physicality and capacity to cover distance quickly in attack and offer an additional body going forward. Rio Mavuba will provide another similar option at the World Cup.
With defenders comfortable in possession and Hugo Lloris as the captain and established goalkeeper, France are able to play a very high back line in the knowledge that they have a defence with speed to recover and a stopper who will happily step outside his penalty area to cover through balls. They'll build play from deep, but not unnecessarily so—a quick wide ball to the overlapping full-backs or in to feet of the more creative midfielders dropping off will be the centre-backs' first port of call when receiving possession.
Key to France's attack will be who and how Deschamps aligns his attacking trio to support the striker. Benzema can often look isolated without runners looking to emerge past him, despite the likes of Ribery and Yohan Cabaye being excellent on the ball. Getting support alongside and beyond the centre-forward will dictate how easy France find it to progress in Brazil.
Projected starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Hugo Lloris; Mathieu Debuchy, Laurent Koscielny, Mamadou Sakho, Patrice Evra; Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi; Mathieu Valbuena, Yohan Cabaye, Franck Ribery; Karim Benzema.
Reasons for Hope
Franck Ribery's individual brilliance and ability to cut in off the flank to create chances for his attackers is always cause for celebration.
France's power in midfield is undeniably both a deliberate ploy and a major strength of Deschamps', which is perhaps part of the reason that the likes of Maxime Gonalons have not been included over Moussa Sissoko.
Experience is to be found throughout the established left channel of the team. From back to front, Lloris, Patrice Evra, Ribery and Benzema are all certs to start, and each has over a half-century of caps.
France have also been placed in a reasonably friendly group; all the sides look even, but there is not one absolute standout guaranteed safe passage, meaning a French side at the top of their game can be confident of having enough to get two victories in their initial three games.
Reasons for Concern
On the flip side, if they start poorly or fail to produce their best form, Switzerland and Ecuador in particular will provide opposition who can certainly serve up enough of their own quality to beat France.
Three exits at the group stage in four World Cup finals would be horrendous, but is absolutely possible.
A big concern for the side is the question of who scores the goals?
Benzema has hit four goals since ending his drought in October 2013, but has often looked uncomfortable in his nation's jersey and, as mentioned previously, can lack support from the next line of attack. Olivier Giroud has never really looked an international-class striker and Loic Remy, while a different threat with his direct running, has scored just four goals in 22 appearances for France.
Further back, Ribery is the only squad member who has scored more than five goals at international level.
Leaving the likes of Eric Abidal, Samir Nasri and Jeremy Menez might give Deschamps what he believes to be a better-balanced squad, but he might just be left to rue leaving out the fleeting—but present—individual genius of the latter two at some stage.
Deschamps said he did not pick Nasri because he's not happy when he doesn't start. It shows and it affects the squad #France— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 13, 2014
Conclusions and Prediction
France will be stung by recent memories of World Cup failures and near misses since they won it in '98, and two or three individuals in the centre and final third of the field should be enough to get them through the groups.
Much depends on how the other games go in this tight group—it genuinely is one where you could see Team A beat Team B and lose to C, but then also see Team B beat Team C. Anybody careless enough to take Honduras for a side who will roll over could also come unstuck and drop vital points.
All told, France should be looking at the knockouts as a minimum achievement, but they could struggle thereafter unless their best players hit top form.
Prediction: A second-place finish in the group and a round of 16 exit to Argentina.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!