After last week focus on Italy, we cross the Alps to the neighbor France, former World & European Champions and one of the games great across time, after an embarrassing appearance in their World Cup & a rather poor one in the Euros too, “Les Blues” will try to impress the world football on its main stage yet again.
The French were one of the teams that took part in the first ever World Cup in Uruguay back in 1930, they played the opening game against Mexico & their own “Lucien Laurent” was the first ever player to score in the history of the tournament. Still, they were eliminated from the first round, something that happened also in the 1934, 1954, 1966, 1978, 2002 & 2010 World Cup versions. In the 2002, they were the title holders, but a loss in the opening against debutantes Senegal, followed by another to Denmark & Uruguay put an early end to their title defense.
In 1938 they hosted the tournament and reached the quarter finals, but lost to title holder & eventual winner Italia 3-1. Their first remarkable appearance was in the 1958 version in Sweden, where they reached the Semi finals thanks to the goals of “Just Fontaine”, who finished the tournament with 13 goals, a world record, They defeated West Germany 6-2 to earn the 3rd place, with Fontaine scoring four goals!
In the 1980’s , France had their first “Golden generation”, the team of “Michel Platini”, “Alain Giresse”, ” Luis Fernandez” & “Jean Tigana” just to name a few, a team that led them twice to the Semi finals of the World Cup in 1982 & 1986, and most importantly to winning Euro 1984. In Spain 82, they played the Germans in what is considered one of the games best matches across history where they drew 3-3 after extra time & losing to penalties, they later lost to Poland in the 3rd place match too. In 1986 they again lost to West Germany in the Semis, but this time earned 3rd place by defeating Belgium 4-2.
Their best effort was in their home soil back in 1998, when they finally won the trophy under the helm of “Aime Jacquet”& what is considered as the 2nd “golden generation” of the French, led of course by Zinedine Zidane, not to mention the likes of “Laurenc Blanc”, “Lilian Thuram”, “Youri Djorkaeff” & current coach “Dider Deschamps”, they defeated title holders Brazil 3-0 in a historic night at the “San Done” back then to claim the title.
In 2006, they came close to their second title, beating Spain, Brazil & Portugal in their way to the final, and Zidane producing some memorable matches, but his most memorable moment of the tournament will remain when he “head-butted” Marco Materazzi in the extra time of the final, ending his glorified career with a red card & France’s chances along the way, they lost 5-3 on penalties this to the Azzurri.
Their last appearance in South Africa was highlighted with problems between coach “Reymon Domenech” and several of his players during the tournament, leading to an early exit from the group stages after losses to hosts South Africa & Mexico, and a draw with Uruguay.
Looking at the current squad, the French have a group of the best talents present around Europe, Paul Pogba has been a break this term with Juventus, turning into one of the best box to box players in the globe with his physical attributes & powerful shots.
Raphael Varane, who just won the Champions League with Real Madrid is one of the best young defenders & his partnership with Momo Sakho looks be to a promising one in the backline of the team, and the presence of Koscielny & Mangala too gives a variety of options to Deshamps.
They also have the duo of Karim Benzema & Olivier Giroud upfront, whom, despite several criticisms & not being always the fan favorite, their statistics may say otherwise, Karim scored 24 goals in Real Madrid’s Champions & Coppa winning season, while Giroud scored a total of 22 goals in all competitions for the Gunners this season, and with Loic Remy & the rising Antoine Greizmann of Sociedad, the French look solid in the attack too.
They aren’t lacking the experienced players too, with Bacary Sagna, Patrice Evra, Hugo Lloris & Frank Ribery playing this role, most of them has huge International & club experience, playing their second World Cup in succession, they will try to avoid last term mistakes & lead this group into a better showing in Brazil.
Under the helm of “Reymond” Domenech”, the French two faces appeared, the strong competitive team in 2006, followed by a poor & dis-organized team in Euro 2008 & World Cup 2010, this can be attributed mainly to Domenech’ failure to outcome the ego of his stars & his stubbornness with his tactics too, and looking at the history of the team, it wasn’t the first time they failed at the grand stage despite having some decent squads, teams in the 90’s that had Cantona & Papin failed to even make it to the World Cup because of the lack of discipline & deployment of the available talent, something that Deschamps will try to avoid this time with his strong personality & firm character.
It won’t be France’s first try with one of the “Golden Generation” members as coach of the national team, they did with Laurent Blanc in the last Euros, and the results wasn’t satisfactory. They will hope Deschamps appointment comes with better results this time.
As a player, he was the captain of the winning team in 1998, one is considered among the legends in the history of the French football history, he moved to training in 2003 with AS Monaco, leading them to a Cup title & their first ever Champions League final, which they lost 3-0 to Porto.
He then took helm of the relegated Juventus, a team whom he had a glorious playing career, he managed to return the “old lady” back to Serie A after winning the Serie B title, but he later resigned due to conflicts with the management. He then moved to Marseille , where he led them to the League title in his first season in 09/10, he continued his successful time there by winning the “Coupe De La Ligue” three times from 2010 till 2010, he left Marseille in 2012 though in 10th position after a rather poor season compared to the previous ones.
He took the helm of the national team after the Blanc departure in 2012, he led them to qualify to Brazil after a rather poor qualifying campaign where they came second behind Spain, and were almost knocked out by Ukraine in the playoffs when they lost 0-2 in Kiev , but managed to qualify in Paris with a controversial 3-0 win.
Despite having his contract automatically renewed after the qualification to the Finals due to a clause in his contract, Deschamps still under many pressure due to the poor showings in the qualifiers and due to some selections he made, most notably the exclusion of “EPL” Samir Nasri from his team for the tournament despite the great season the Algerian born player had with the Citizens.
Known for his calmness & strong personality, it’s still to be seen whether he’ll be able to produce maybe a 3rd “Golden Generation” for the French this time in Brazil despite many not believing in his team’s ability to reach far.
Frank Ribery is the star whom the French depend upon to lead this team to glory. In his 3rd & probably last appearance in the World Cup, Ribery will try to prove his worth as one of the best players of the World and that he should have been the winner of the “Balon D’Or” last term , not Ronaldo, and what could be a better stage for him to prove that than the World Cup?
Despite injury concerns & not featuring in the last friendlies for the team, it’s expected, he’ll shake off his back injury and he’ll be ready in time for the opening game.
Keep an eye also on Paul Pogba has been the protagonist last summer with the winning U-21 team in Turkey, and will look to duplicate this with the Senior team in Brazil too.
The French team remains one of the names qualified to go far in this tournament, This should have no problem going through their group of Ecuador, Switzerland & Honduras, and with group F (Argentina, Nigeria , Bosnia & Iran) in their path, they probably should avoid surprises & top their group to avoid the Argentinians. If they make it to the Quarter finals, anything can happen from their given their experience and the players they possess.