“Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!”
The 1998 champions have high expectations coming into Russia twenty years later. And they’re not the only ones – many of the “experts,” as much as I dislike the use of the term, are expecting much of the same thing. The talent is certainly there for at least a quarterfinal run, and many have France as the next team to beat after Germany. But there’s a maddening dynamic to them – when they’re written off, they do well. When expectations are high, they fall apart, often in dramatic circumstances. Can Les Bleus avoid that here?
Photo courtesy of World Flag Database.
Nickname: Les Bleus (The Blues)
Total appearances (including 2018): 15
Best Finish: Champions (1998)
Current manager: Didier Deschamps
Caps leader: Lilian Thuram (142)
Leading scorer(s): Thierry Henry (51)
Date of Qualification: October 10, 2017
FIFA ranking at tournament draw: 7
June 16 vs. Australia – Kazan
June 21 vs. Peru – Yekaterinburg
June 26 vs. Denmark – Moscow (Luzhniki)
Consistency is a key word for the French team. In the last five World Cups, they’ve had the following patterns: champions-group-second-group-quarterfinals. And before that championship run in 1998, they had missed the previous two tournaments after making the semifinals in 1982 and 1986. Their style may be known as “champagne football,” but it has also had a really frustrating tendency to be flat when expectations are high.
Group C is what I call “surprisingly deceptive.” You have three teams in the top twenty of the world, France being one of them. Coming off of a hosting gig at Euro 2016, and a runner-up appearance at that same tournament, this French team is loaded with talent, from manager Didier Deschamps to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to playmakers such as Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann, to veterans Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba, to lesser-known talents such as Moussa Sissoko and Blaise Matuidi. And they have several young talents waiting in the wings such as Ousmane Dembélé. But one of their biggest up-and-coming threats is only nineteen years old and has already been described as dynamic – PSG forward Kylian Mbappé. Born in the nineteenth arondissement of Paris, he looks to be a dominant presence, and a dynamic talent. Many have already started comparing him to Thierry Henry.
In many ways, winning Group A of UEFA qualifiers was magnificent enough. They had to deal with major bullets in Sweden, Netherlands, and a Bulgaria team potentially on the rise. Even little Luxembourg held Les Bleus to a scoreless draw during qualifying. France has a lot of talent, but like a few other teams, such as Belgium and perhaps Argentina, do they have the ability to play as a cohesive unit? Is there such a thing as too much talent?
France is likely to win this group, and I don’t think it’s likely that they’ll fail to advance. But it’s not impossible, and with the other talent in a more difficult group than people give it credit for, the last thing France wants and needs is to be caught asleep at the wheel.
Kylian Mbappé is said to be France’s next rising star, and many think he’ll have a big World Cup. Photo courtesy of UEFA.
The FFF crest for France. Photo courtesy of logos.wikia.com.