5 Players Who Enhanced Their Reputations for France at the World Cup

Andrew GibneyFeatured ColumnistJuly 6, 2014

5 Players Who Enhanced Their Reputations for France at the World Cup

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    Remy de la Mauviniere/Associated Press

    In any football tournament across the globe, it is always tough to go out at the quarter-final stage. You are two games from a historic final, but you feel like you are still in the early stages of competition.

    France had to endure the pain of elimination to Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but it’s not all doom and gloom. This translates as a success for Les Bleus.

    After the disastrous 2010 campaign in South Africa, the performances in Brazil have banished the demons and claimed redemption for the 1998 world champions.

    For most of the French personnel, this was their first foray into an international tournament, especially for coach Didier Deschamps. They will all learn from this experience and hopefully grow toward Euro 2016 in their own backyard.

    Some players stood up and became leaders on a young team. Some performed above expectations and unfortunately some faded into the shadows when they were needed the most.

    Here are five players for France who enhanced their reputations at the 2014 World Cup.

Mathieu Valbuena

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    David Vincent/Associated Press

    Undoubtedly, Mathieu Valbuena was France’s best performer over the four out of the five games Les Bleus played in Brazil.

    He is around European football, but his performances had never launched him into the higher echelons of the footballing world.

    Over the past 12 months, his performances for Marseille had been a little short of his best, but for Deschamps and France, he became the most important player wearing the famous blue shirt in the last 18 months.

    In Brazil he solidified his place as France’s talisman. Superb performances against Honduras and Switzerland helped France win Group E.

    After a rest against Ecuador, he was back in the round of 16 to squeeze France past Nigeria. Even when he wasn’t quite at his best, he was still one of the side's best performers.

    The sad note for Deschamps and France is that Valbuena is already 29 years old. 2014 could be his best and last international tournament, but what a way to go out.

Moussa Sissoko

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    Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

    Some people questioned Moussa Sissoko’s involvement in the France squad. Even fans of his own club Newcastle United questioned what he had done to deserve the chance.

    He played a lot more than most would have expected, and his start against Switzerland showed just how vital he could be for Deschamps’ side.

    He replaced Paul Pogba in the midfield and brought with him a new level of energy, drive and physicality, even bursting forward past the attack to score France’s fifth against the Swiss.

    Not once did he let his country down. Deschamps believed in Sissoko, and throughout the minutes he played, his country started to believe in him too.

    At only 24 years old, he could become a huge player for France in the next four years. He may not be the most technical player or have the star power of Pogba, but his personality has a huge impact on this squad.

    For France, that is sometimes more important than ability.

Antoine Griezmann

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    Francois Xavier Marit/Associated Press

    Antoine Griezmann only made his international debut in March, but now he has established himself as one of France’s most vibrant attacking options.

    He doesn’t even have to start every game. He has shown he can have a huge impact from the bench. No matter how much or how little time he is given to play, he provides a spark.

    Against Honduras he made his first World Cup start and looked like he was a veteran at international football.

    His biggest contribution came against Nigeria when he was given 30 minutes to shine. His play brought life out of Karim Benzema, and his threat helped Joseph Yobo turn the ball into his own net for France’s second.

    Now, it would be hard not to play him in the starting lineup of future internationals. This kid is going to be a star, and France have only scraped the surface of his potential.

Mamadou Sakho

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    Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

    Mamadou Sakho came into the France team 2-0 down to Ukraine in the World Cup play-off. His influence and drive inspired his team to the tournament, and he didn’t stop there.

    After his season with Liverpool, his ability to lead this team was questioned, but his performances silenced the doubters. He was a colossus on the pitch, and even through a thigh injury he continued to put his body on the line for his country.

    He shouldn’t have played against Ecuador, and the injury forced him to miss the Nigeria game and the last 20 minutes against Germany.

    When he did play, he was vital. The partnership with Raphael Varane could become one of the best and vital duos in this France team for years to come. The more Sakho plays for Liverpool, the more high-level experience he will gain.

    People may doubt Sakho, but Deschamps trusts him 100 percent, and that’s all that matters.

Blaise Matuidi

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    Francois Xavier Marit/Associated Press

    At 27 years old, it is a shock that this was Blaise Matuidi’s first-ever international tournament for France. Deschamps will be hoping that he can continue on in his current vein of form all the way to Russia 2018.

    After breaking through at Saint-Etienne, Matuidi has become a star at Paris Saint-Germain. As the money men spend big on superstars, he continues to grow and blossom, and his place as a PSG starter has become indispensable.

    Over the last 12 months he has become as important for his country. His calmness and composure on the ball, twinned with his drive to push forward and provide an attacking threat, is the perfect combination for France.

    His performances were exemplary throughout, and despite the game against Germany being his 70th game of the season, he still tried to drive his team forward.

    In two years’ time he will be wiser and older, but you can guarantee he will still run himself into the ground for his country.

    Without the play of Matuidi, France would never have gained the chance to play at this World Cup. Once in Brazil, he went about showing the world what he is all about.

    The secret is now out; he is no longer a gem just in France.