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Euro 2020: The greatest France XI of all time

France
France

Football in France has witnessed international glory in multiple short periods over the last century. A rather unsettled football structure after World War II was followed by a series of successful years in 1950s and 1980s. Then came a lull of more than 20 years, followed by a long period of international consistency. With Euro 2020 around the corner, we have a look at the greatest France XI of all time.

France witnessed its best period in international football in 1998 and 2000

France win the 1998 FIFA World Cup Final
France win the 1998 FIFA World Cup Final

France stormed to the Euro 1984 title led by Ballon d'Or Michel Platini, which was Les Bleus' first major international title. France finished top of their group and got the better of Portugal and Spain in the knockouts. After a couple of dwindling decades in international competitions, France got the second taste of international silverware with the biggest prize of world sport, the FIFA World Cup 1998.

France, led by Didier Deschamps, finished top of Group C and eased past Paraguay, Italy and Croatia in the knock-out rounds to set up their final clash with Brazil. Zinedine Zidane's individual heroics in the final gave the French nation its first World Cup title.

The sheer run of form and might continued at Euro 2000. France was led by FIFA Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane himself as they faced Italy in the final. Sylvain Wiltord gave France the lead before Marco Delvecchi equalized. David Trezeguet scored in extra time to send the home crowd into the absolute wilderness.

France came close to a second European glory at Euro 2016, only to be humbled by Portugal in the final before winning a second World Cup title in 2018. Reigned by former World Cup winning captain Didier Deschamps, France, led by Hugo Lloris faced Croatia in the final in Russia, which went 4-2 to the French national team.

Many great players have played their part in these triumphs. Without further ado, let's have a look at the greatest XI we think have played for Les Bleus.

Goalkeeper - Hugo Lloris

France v Ukraine - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
France v Ukraine - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier

Hugo Lloris is the current captain of the French side and his club Tottenham Hotspur. Lloris represented his nation at U-18 and U-21 levels before making his senior team debut in a friendly against Uruguay in 2008. As captain of the French national team, Lloris has led Les Bleus to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 and FIFA World Cup 2014.

France came close to winning Euro 2016 under Lloris' captaincy and finished as runners-up before bagging the ultimate prize in the FIFA World Cup 2018. Lloris is France's most capped goalkeeper with 124 international appearances, overtaking Fabien Barthez. Lloris has played a vital part in France's recent resurgence into the top level of international football and is known for reflex saves and quick reactionary movement at goal.

Right-back - Lilian Thuram

Lilian Thuram of France
Lilian Thuram of France

Lilian Thuram is the most capped French footballer in history with 142 international appearances. Thuram primarily played at right-back but was a solid center back as well. He played a crucial part in France's golden generation in the 2000s which led to the FIFA World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 triumphs.

Thuram scored the only two goals of his international career against Croatia in the FIFA World 1998 semi-final. Thuram's resilience and grit at the back forced the then French head coach, Raymond Domenech, to convince Thuram to come out of retirement. He wanted Thuram to come and join the French side for the FIFA World Cup 2006 as they made it all the way to the final.

Centre back - Laurent Blanc

Laurent Blanc of France
Laurent Blanc of France

Laurent Blanc's international career began with a personal win. He was named the Golden Player of the Euro U-21 1998. Blanc made a tough start to his senior national team career as France failed to qualify for both the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups and subsequently retired. Blanc returned to Les Bleus after being convinced by the then France head coach, Aime Jacquet.

Blanc was exemplary in France's 1998 FIFA World Cup winning campaign and went on to score the first ever golden goal of the tournament against Paraguay in the round-of-16. France only scored two goals in the World Cup, courtesy of a tight France defensive display led by Le President Laurent Blanc. Blanc played a crucial part in the Euro 2000 triumph as well by playing as a sweeper before retiring with 97 caps and 16 goals.

Centre back - Marcel Desailly

Alessandro Del Piero, Marcel Desailly
Alessandro Del Piero, Marcel Desailly

Partnering Blanc at the back, Marcel Desailly is arguably one of the greatest center backs and defensive midfielders of the French national team. He played a key part in the World Cup 1998 winning campaign and was also part of the subsequent Euro 2000 victory.

Desailly was made the captain of the French national team after Didier Deschamps called it a day in 2000. He led Les Bleus to the FIFA Confederations Cup 2001 title. Desailly surpassed the record for international appearances (116) for France before being taken over by his compatriot Lilian Thuram in a few years' time.

Left back - Bixente Lizarazu

Bixente Lizarazu
Bixente Lizarazu

Completing the defensive prowess of the France national team in the FIFA World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 is left-back Bixente Lizarazu. Lizarazu made 96 appearances for Les Bleus in a career spanning 12 years.

He started in both the elusive finals of WC'98 and Euro'00. Lizarazu scored two goals in his playing career and retired after France were knocked out by Greece at Euro 2004.

Defensive midfielder - Patrick Vieira

Patrick Vieira
Patrick Vieira

Patrick Vieira was one of the finest made in France, box-to-box midfielders of the game. Vieira played a supporting role in the FIFA World Cup 1998 triumph but was heavily involved in the Euro 2000 campaign. He played the role of the first-choice central midfielder.

He also won the FIFA Confederations Cup 2001, ending the tournament with the highest goals. Vieira was also handed the captaincy of the national team. Vieira retired after missing the FIFA World Cup 2010 with 107 caps for France, and six goals.

Midfielder - Zinedine Zidane

Semi-final Portugal v France - World Cup 2006
Semi-final Portugal v France - World Cup 2006

Zinedine Zidane is arguably the best French footballer in modern times. Zidane was named the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1998, 2000 and 2003, and also won the 1998 Ballon d'Or.

He scored twice in the 1998 FIFA World Cup final against Brazil in a 3-0 win and is a national hero in France till date. Zidane was named the player of the tournament at Euro 2000 for his exceptional ball control and passing abilities in central midfield. He also went on to win the Golden Ball in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Zidane played 108 international games for France, scoring 31 goals and retiring as the fourth most capped French player in history. He was subsequently named the best European footballer of the past 50 years in the UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll.

Midfielder - Michel Platini

Michel Platini of France
Michel Platini of France

Michel Platini overpowers Zinedine Zidane as the best French footballer of all time. Platini played a pivotal role in France's Euro 1884 triumph which was one of the first major international football trophies for the French nation. He was both the top scorer and the best player in the tournament. Platini scored nine goals at Euro 1984, which till date is the highest number of goals scored by a player in the tournament.

Platini formed the elite magic square with his compatriots Alain Giresse, Luis Fernandez and Jean Tigana in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. Platini was the record goal-scorer for France until 2007 when Thierry Henry eventually took over. Platini won the Ballon d'Or three times, in 1983, 1984 and 1985, and came seventh in the FIFA Player of the Century vote.

Winger - Raymond Kopa

Raymond Kopa - 1958 FIFA World Cup
Raymond Kopa - 1958 FIFA World Cup

Nicknamed the 'Little Napolean' for his exquisite dribbling and scoring abilities, Raymond Kopa was one of the first French footballers to rise to world domination in 1950s. Kopa scored 18 goals in 45 matches for France between 1952 and 1962.

He played in the 1958 FIFA World Cup and took the French side to the semi-finals by scoring three goals in the campaign. He won the Ballon D'Or in 1958 and also made it to the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team in the same calendar year.

Striker - Just Fontaine

Just Fontaine - 1958 FIFA World Cup
Just Fontaine - 1958 FIFA World Cup

Partnering with Kopa upfront for France is the legendary Just Fontaine. He is known for scoring the highest number of goals in a single edition of the FIFA World Cup. Fontaine scored 13 goals in six games in the 1958 edition as France made it to the semi-finals, which included four goals against West Germany.

He remains the fourth highest goal-scorer in FIFA World Cups among players having played at least two editions, behind Gerd Muller, Ronaldo Lima and Miroslav Klose. Fontaine made a fiery France debut by netting a hat-trick as France eased past Luxembourg 8-0 all the way back in 1953. Fontaine retired with 30 French caps, scoring 21 goals in total.

Striker - Thierry Henry

Uruguay v France: Group A - 2010 FIFA World Cup
Uruguay v France: Group A - 2010 FIFA World Cup

Thierry Henry is France's all-time top goal-scorer and one of the greatest to play in the game. Henry has netted 51 goals in 123 appearances for the French national team. Despite being a youngster in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, Henry ended the victorious campaign by being France's top goal-scorer in the tournament with three goals.

Henry was yet again the top scorer for France in Euro 2000, with three goals and three man-of-the-match awards in yet another victorious campaign. He earned the Golden Ball and Golden Shoe in the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup and led his team to the title. Henry made it to the 2006 FIFPro World XI for his constant goals for the France national team after the 2006 FIFA World Cup and eventually retired after a dip in form around the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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Edited by Arnav Kholkar
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