France out to prove manager Deschamps and doubters wrong
“There are six or seven teams out there that head into the competition to win it, but France are not among those. The last time France won a World Cup group-stage match was against Togo in 2006. We are no longer among the elite teams in Europe or worldwide.”
Those are the words of France manager Didier Deschamps ahead of the World Cup this summer in Brazil. Although they are not positive, they may be true.
Les Blues, currently 16th in the FIFA world rankings, failed to win a single match at the competition in South Africa in 2010, as they bowed out at the first hurdle, and only managed to scrape their way into this tournament via the play-offs.
A nervy 3-2 aggregate victory over Ukraine (they lost 2-0 in the first leg) ensured their ticket to Brazil. However, despite being handed one of the easiest groups for the finals, they are priced with Coral behind the likes of neighbours Belgium to win the World Cup at 22/1.
France have been pooled in Group E, along with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras, and are odds-on both to finish first at 8/11, and qualify to the next stage at 1/5. They are, of course, expected to advance to the first knockout round, but are rated most likely to exit in the last 16 at 15/8.
Deschamps, who captained France to victory as a player in the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship, experimented with different tactics (4-4-2 and variations of 4-3-3) during qualification.
It seems that the former Juventus and Marseille manager prefers to play two up front against the lesser teams, but one centre forward for bigger games (against Spain, the Netherlands and in the play-offs against Ukraine).
Strikers Olivier Giroud of Arsenal (50/1 to be tournament top scorer) and Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema (40/1) each played seven out of the eight qualifying games, being paired together from the start on three of those occasions. The duo have impressed for their respective clubs this season and it remains to be seen if both or one of them will be used in the XI.
France will likely have four forwards in the squad, with on-loan Newcastle United leading marksman Loic Remy (80/1), Dimitri Payet of Marseille (125/1) and Lyon duo Bafetimbi Gomis and Alexandre Lacazette hoping to get in.
Bayern Munich star Franck Ribery (66/1 to be top scorer) and Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille) will probably be the wingers, and featured in all eight qualifying matches. Newly-capped Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad), Jeremy Menez (PSG), Samir Nasri (Man City), Remy and Payet are also adept to playing out wide.
Midfield has always been a strong point for Les Blues and, although they perhaps lack the big names of the past, they can rely on prodigy Paul Pogba (Juventus), Blaise Matuidi, Yohan Cabaye (both PSG) and Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle).
Another position seemingly yet to be decided is right back, with Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Christophe Jallet (PSG) and Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle) vying for the spot. It looks as if the latter holds the edge, having started in both recent friendlies as well as the double-header play-off with Ukraine.
Manchester United’s Patrice Evra has surely cemented the left back berth, ahead of Gael Clichy (Man City) and youngster Lucas Digne (PSG), while Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) will almost certainly be first choice central defender.
The others challenging to partner 28-year-old Koscielny include Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Eliaquim Mangala (Porto) and Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool).
The goalkeeping position will go to national captain Hugo Lloris of Spurs, meanwhile, with Steve Mandanda as back up.