How Far Can Happy and Uninhibited France Realistically Go at the World Cup?

Jonathan JohnsonFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2014

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JUNE 20: Olivier Giroud of France celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group E match between Switzerland and France at Arena Fonte Nova on June 20, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France have been one of the major surprises of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil so far. Not because they are missing supposed key players and therefore expectations were lowered—there is still plenty of talent in Didier Deschamps’ squad without the likes of the omitted Samir Nasri and the injured Franck Ribery—but because this French outfit does not look like imploding.

Les Bleus have made a bit of a habit in recent years of finding a way to defeat themselves at major tournaments by falling foul of their own egos.

In 2002, the defending World Cup winners left South Korea and Japan without having scored a goal and—despite reaching the final in Germany in 2006—crashed out at the group stages once again in 2010 amid acrimonious circumstances.

Controversy followed them to the 2012 European Championship, where the squad self-destructed once again.

David Vincent/Associated Press

Deschamps has been picking up the pieces ever since then and, piece-by-piece, has been rebuilding France in an attempt to restore them to former glories.

For the first time in a long time, the French look united and like a team with strong chemistry that will not break up when put under relatively small amounts of pressure. This should have any potential opponents in Brazil worried.

While they might lack experience in some areas, this vibrant young France team has been a breath of fresh air for followers of Les Tricolores and World Cup football fans. The group are finally doing justice to their collective talent and have produced some of the best football seen in Brazil so far this summer.

Looking at the squad and the players performing well for Deschamps’ side early on, it is no surprise.

Francois Mori/Associated Press

Few countries boast the same depth across all positions as Les Bleus, and even with the likes of Nasri and Ribery not included, competition for places in this squad is very strong.

While the Manchester City man should not be concerning himself about a potential recall while Deschamps is in charge, Bayern Munich’s Ribery should have genuine concerns over whether or not France actually need him anymore.

That said, only two games have been played. Despite impressive victories against both Honduras and Switzerland in Group E so far, people should not be getting too carried away.

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JUNE 20:  Karim Benzema of France celebrates a goal that came after the referee had blown full time during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group E match between Switzerland and France at Arena Fonte Nova on June 20, 2014 in Salvador, Bra
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Although they have looked fearless and devoid of the same burdens that have weighed down other France squads in the recent past, they are still waiting to come up against a really top team at this tournament.

Many will point out that Switzerland are currently ranked sixth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings, with the French lagging a further 11 places behind.

However, many have criticised the system that ranks those teams, and Deschamps and his players will have to wait until they know whether or not they have advanced from their group before they will be able to test themselves further.

The clash with the Swiss was this France team’s first real test since arriving in Brazil and arguably the greatest challenge faced by this group since the World Cup qualification play-offs against Ukraine back in November. Les Bleus passed this test and are currently sweeping aside those put in front of them.

The longer this continues, the more France will believe they can go all the way to the final. Even now, the benefits of a confident Karim Benzema, a purposeful Olivier Giroud and a Mathieu Valbuena full of self-belief are clear to see.

Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

A combination of Deschamps’ key players rising to the occasion of such a prestigious international tournament, having a point to prove for the national team and some not having great levels of previous experience internationally is proving extremely potent.

Added to the momentum built up by their heroic recovery from a two-goal deficit against Ukraine to secure their place in Brazil, it has created an unstoppable force at present.

France’s progress may come crashing to a halt in the latter stages if they come up against a team such as Argentina or a Germany—sides with greater levels of collective experience—but, in terms of pure talent, few countries are better equipped in Brazil this summer.

PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL - JUNE 15:  Brayan Beckeles of Honduras challenges Patrice Evra of France during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group E match between France and Honduras at Estadio Beira-Rio on June 15, 2014 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.  (Photo by Ian Wa
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That lack of seasoned individuals is a weakness because it deprives Deschamps of potential leadership figures out on the pitch, but it is also an advantage because the players with little in the way of experience have not experienced France’s poisonous past.

With a minimal number of survivors from the 2010 Knysna debacle, all mention of Les Bleus’ tempestuous past has been shelved. The French public is finally behind them once again, and the players appear genuinely delighted to be representing their country.

This bodes well ahead of the 2016 European Championship on home soil, but right now this France side is giving a taster of what to expect in two years’ time.

There is no shame in coming up short in the quarter-finals or the semi-finals this summer because of a lack of collective experience. In fact, making it to the last eight or the last four would be seen as massive progress and not falling short of expectations at all.

However, one thing is for sure. At the moment, the only thing limiting the ambition of this side is their ability to handle the strongest opponents at international level. When France do leave Brazil, it will not be because they have defeated themselves this time.