WC2014 Team Focus: France

Le_nouveau_logo_FFFGroup Opponents: Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras

A decent group for the French to draw, though it could turn potentially tricky if Didier Deschamp’s men fail to turn up right from the off. Honduras are first up, and as the seemingly weakest team in the group, Deschamp must demand his side get the three points and a good margin of victory. Their next game against an up-and-coming Swiss side will be France’s first big test in the group and the tournament as a whole. Consisting star forward Xhaden Shaqiri, a sturdy central midfield with Valon Behrami & Gohkan Inler, and rising left-back Ricardo Rodriguez, not to mention reliable goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, there is genuine quality in their first eleven, and even some good players on the bench. With the last group match against a tricky Ecuadorian side, France will put themselves under unnecessary pressure if qualification is not wrapped up by then.

Strengths:

France’s strongest department has to be their creative, forward-thinking players. Yohan Cabaye will probably be the deepest of the midfield trio and allow France to dictate play from deep. Ahead of Cabaye will be two of the most athletic midfielders right now, Blaise Matuidi is more about pace and power, with the ability to break up play high up the pitch, but it is Paul Pogba that will excite most French fans. Pogba is a combination of brawn and brains, capable of the spectacular as well as a good midfield tussle.

Playing in a more advanced position, more alongside the forwards rather than the midfielders, is Mathieu Valbuena. who will be ever more important for the French after talisman winger Franck Ribery was recently ruled out of the tournament. Valbuena’s skill on the ball and mind-blowing vision will be France’s biggest threat, out on the inside left of their forward line. In reserve, there is also Morgan Schneiderlin, who has proved his quality in the Premier League as a creative defensive player, in the mould of Cabaye.

Weaknesses:

Unfortunately, even though there is many good players all around the squad, there is a lack of star names in the French team this time around. Up till 2006, the French could still rely upon Claude Makelele, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Patrick Vieira and of course, Zinedane Zidane. Now in 2014, probably France’s biggest name is Ribery, but even he is out injured. Pogba is still a rising star who admittedly will be world-class in the future, as will Hugo Lloris by the next World Cup. Karim Benzema is currently Real Madrid’s first-choice striker more from necessity rather than choice, though he did grab 17 goals in 35 games for Los Blancos.

With Raphael Värane showing maturity beyond his years, Pogba’s talent there for all to see, and Antoine Griezmann’s stock ever-rising with each passing international friendly, this French team will have to rely more upon their rising stars rather than established, world-class internationals.

Wild Card: Antoine Griezmannarticle_GriezmannGriezmann was meant to be the impact player, to grab that vital goal or assist off the bench. Or if Deschamp had wanted to play a more forward thinking side with two wingers supporting Benzema, on the right would be Ribery and left side was Griezmann’s. However, with Ribery out injured, Griezmann is probably a sure-fire starter now. The importance of the young forward from Real Sociedad is now ever more important.

His dribbling at defenders will be one to watch for both French supporters as well as World Cup neutrals, and his ability to arrive late in the opposition’s penalty box has been likened to Spain and Barcelona’s Pedro. Griezmann has the potential to light up this World Cup and be the creative hub for France’s campaign, and a good performance at this tournament will very well spark a bidding war between Europe’s elite for his signature.

Predictions:

Unlike the last World Cup, Deschamp has managed to keep the squad together and foster some sense of team spirit and unity. And unlike the last World Cup, France will know better and should be able to negotiate this group. As mentioned earlier, Deschamp needs a quick, positive start with a maximum of three points from their first game against Honduras. With that in the bag, they should be able to face off against fellow group giant Switzerland with confidence and less pressure. This game will probably decide the group winner. Ecuador seems like an easy fixture, and France should come through with three points too, probably seeing them top the group as well.

Having been given a decent group, France’s reward should they top their group will be a last 16 tie with the runners-up of Group F, a group Argentina will most likely win. World Cup debutants Bosnia-Herzegovina should be able to pipe African representatives Nigeria to the runners-up spot, but either way France will be confident in their chances of making the quarters. A match-up against Germany potentially awaits and even a win in the quarters will be a bonus for France, especially with what happened in the last World Cup. However, their tournament should, based on expectations, end by the quarter-final stage.

 

in remembrance to those who landed on Normandy in France on this day 70 years ago.

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