France World Cup 2014: Team Guide for FIFA Tournament
Usually the centre of massive controversy at major international tournaments, France will be aiming to get through this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil without incident.
Hugely talented—but often flawed by infighting and ill discipline—they travel to South America without Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery, the divisive Samir Nasri of Manchester City and Olympique Lyonnais' Clement Grenier but still with plenty of quality and strength in depth.
The 3-2 aggregate victory over Ukraine in the play-offs has boosted optimism surrounding Les Bleus, but expectations are still relatively low, with this summer’s tournament expected to be used to prepare for the 2016 UEFA European Championship on home soil. France are expected to emerge from what is a favourable Group E, but coach Didier Deschamps has picked his squad with one eye fixed firmly on the future.
Winners in 1998 and beaten finalists in 2006, but knocked out in the group stages in both 2002 and 2010, Les Tricolores have lurched from success to failure and back again in recent World Cup campaigns. They are due another success in Brazil this summer.
Road to the Finals
Nobody can say that France do not deserve their place at this summer’s World Cup. They became the first team in history to overcome a 2-0 play-off first leg deficit to qualify for Brazil with a 3-2 aggregate win over Ukraine.
Drawn alongside world and European champions Spain in the five-team Group I of UEFA’s qualification group stages, reaching South America automatically was always going to be a difficult task. However, Didier Deschamps’ side did give themselves an early advantage.
After beating Finland 1-0 in Helsinki in the opening fixture in September of 2012, Les Bleus disposed of Belarus 3-1 at Stade de France ahead of a trip to Madrid to face Spain.
There, at Vicente Calderon in October, the French fought back from one goal down to earn a stirring 1-1 draw that handed them the chance to pull clear of La Furia Roja when the pair met in Paris early the following year. A 3-1 home win over Georgia followed that draw, and France were further boosted by Spain’s surprise 1-1 home draw with Finland going into their Stade de France showdown.
However, an inept performance in front of their own fans allowed the Spanish to sneak a 1-0 win thanks to Pedro’s solitary goal, and Vicente del Bosque’s side had moved one point clear with both games having been played.
Les Tricolores were now facing the probability that they would need to endure a play-off doubleheader in order to reach the World Cup. Before that was confirmed, though, there was further drama.
Deschamps’ men followed up that 1-0 home defeat to Spain with a woeful goalless draw in Georgia that saw them fall four points behind in the race for top spot in Group I. A dramatic 4-2 come-from-behind win in Belarus and a straightforward 3-0 home win over Finland were not enough, and France secured a play-off berth in second place.
Drawn against Ukraine, Les Bleus slipped to a 2-0 first leg defeat in Kiev thanks to one of the worst French performances in recent memory. An inspired performance at Stade de France resulted in a memorable 3-0 win for Deschamps’ side though, with Karim Benzema’s strike and a Mamadou Sakho double—his first and second international goals—ensuring that France would join the party in Brazil.
Defenders: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle United), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Lucas Digne (Paris Saint-Germain), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Eliaquim Mangala (FC Porto).
Attackers: Mathieu Valbuena (Olympique de Marseille), Karim Benzema (Real), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad), Remy Cabella (Montpellier HSC), Loic Remy (Queens Park Rangers).
For a full player-by-player squad guide, click here.
Deschamps approaches this summer’s World Cup set for his first experience of coaching at an international tournament. Having appeared 103 times for France—Les Bleus’ sixth-most capped player ever—he led his country to their 1998 success on home soil as well as the 2000 UEFA European Championship title.
Brazil will be his first major test in charge of the team—although the Ukraine play-off arguably counted as a significant obstacle—and the 45-year-old will be keen to translate his impressive performances at club level to the international stage.
In his spells with AS Monaco and Marseille, Deschamps proved himself to be adept in domestic and continental cup competitions. The Frenchman led Les Monegasques to the 2004 UEFA Champions League final—where Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto defeated them—and won one Ligue 1 and three consecutive Coupe de la Ligue titles with Marseille, adding to the one he won at Monaco.
The France coach is best remembered as a player, though, winning trophies with Marseille, Juventus and Chelsea, as well as the two international successes enjoyed by Les Tricolores. Deschamps became the youngest captain to lift the Champions League trophy with Marseille in 1993, aged just 24.
Part of the France side that failed to qualify for the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, Deschamps must have feared that the same was about to happen with France this time around. However, he showed great courage to completely change his system when it became clear that it was not working after the first leg in Ukraine.
The French Football Federation (FFF) and the French public are completely behind Deschamps—as evidenced by the muted response to his decision to omit Nasri from the squad—and the Ukraine result appears to have been a turning point for Les Bleus. Handed a favourable group in Brazil, the former France captain will want to make a statement in Brazil ahead of Euro 2016 on home soil.
Considering the declining form of Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery since the start of 2014, the onus will be on Real Madrid’s reinvigorated Karim Benzema to provide the spark for the French this summer.
An important player at club level as part of Real’s famed BBC trio—Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo—the 26-year-old is less integral at international level in terms of his contribution, yet Deschamps views him as an indispensable member of the side.
Even during a 1,222-minute international goal drought—one that only ended last year—the France coach kept his faith in Benzema’s ability to rediscover his form on the international stage. Since breaking that duck with a goal in Les Bleus’ 6-0 demolition of Australia at Parc des Princes last October, the Real man has looked a different player for the French.
Benzema scored the second goal in Les Tricolores’ emphatic 3-0 qualifying play-off win over Ukraine at Stade de France last November and since then has been playing with increasing confidence under Deschamps. His well-taken strike against the Netherlands in a friendly in March also demonstrated this.
Yet Benzema has never done it in a major international tournament for France and can consider this summer’s tournament as his last chance with Les Bleus.
Admittedly it will be the first World Cup that he has taken part in, but in both of his appearances at European Championships with the French he has failed to score a single goal. With Ribery’s form waning, the burden will rest on Benzema’s shoulders to inspire Deschamps’ side to victory in Brazil.
One to Watch
Juventus’ Paul Pogba enjoys a rapidly developing reputation in world football, and his rise to prominence with the French national team in the past few years has been nothing short of meteoric.
The precociously talented 21-year-old heads to Brazil as one of the key figures in Deschamps’ plans, yet he only made his senior debut in March of last year. Since then, he captained the French side that won the FIFA under-20 World Cup in Turkey and has continued to excel at club level in Serie A.
Along with Paris Saint-Germain duo Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye, Pogba will form a solid midfield three that will enable Deschamps to get the most out of Ribery, Benzema and Valbuena. It was the system that helped Les Bleus to overcome Ukraine in the qualifying play-offs, and the team will now build for Euro 2016 with it in mind.
Pogba’s future has been the subject of intense speculation this season, but the midfielder recently revealed to L’Equipe (h/t football-italia.net) that he has not discussed anything with Juventus yet. However, his agent, Mino Raiola, told Tuttosport (h/t football-italia.net) that the pair will consider the Frenchman’s options after the World Cup.
Staying in Italy with the Serie A giants is the most likely option at present for Pogba, but a strong showing with France in Brazil could see his considerable stock soar even higher.
World Cup Record
This will be France’s 14th World Cup appearance, yet they have only won it once—in 1998—and were also runners-up in 2006. Les Bleus have reached the quarter-finals and semi-finals a handful of times, but they have also made exits in the group stage on six separate occasions and failed to qualify five times.
Uruguay 1930: Group stage
Italy 1934: First round
France 1938: Quarter-final
Brazil 1950: Qualified but withdrew
Switzerland 1954: Group stage
Sweden 1958: Third place
Chile 1962: Did not qualify (DNQ)
England 1966: Group stage
Mexico 1970: DNQ
Germany 1974: DNQ
Argentina 1978: Group stage
Spain 1982: Semi-finals (fourth place)
Mexico 1986: Third place
Italy 1990: DNQ
United States of America 1994: DNQ
France 1998: Winners
South Korea and Japan 2002: Group Stage
Germany 2006: Runners-up
South Africa 2010: Group stage
Group Stage Fixtures
France have been drawn in a favourable Group E alongside Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras, and Deschamps’ men are expected to progress comfortably. Les Bleus should arguably be targeting top spot in the group and—theoretically speaking—a clash with Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina or possibly Nigeria in the round of 16.
However, the French are renowned for their ability to implode and underperform on the international stage when the pressure is not on, and Switzerland—led by the retiring Ottmar Hitzfeld—should also not be underestimated.
A win in their opening fixture is imperative for Les Tricolores, while the clash with the Swiss in the second game should decide which of the pair finish atop the group.
France vs. Honduras
Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
Switzerland vs. France
Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
Ecuador vs. France
Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro