France: The team to watch out for?
Nicknamed as 'Les Blues', France have a quite successful World Cup record, winning the 1998 World Cup with Zidane, Henry and co. and ending as runners up in 2006. They however flattered to decieve in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Under Raymond Domenech, France controversially got eliminated from the group stages after failing to win a single game with the French stars apparently boycotting training due to a serious argument between the coaching staff and players. 2014 however seems far more promising. Here's why-
A successful and inspirational qualification phase
Pitted alongside defending champions, Spain in the group stage, they did well to finish second ahead of the likes of Finland, Luxembourg, Belarus and Georgia. They picked up 5 wins, 2 draws, including an impressive 1-1 draw against Spain, and ended up losing just once at the hands of Spain. Hence, they qualified for the World Cup qualifiers facing Ukraine. The first leg ended in disappointment as they lost 2-0. Needing to overcome the first leg deficit, they put up a brilliant effort winning 3-0 with Mamadoou Sakho stiking twice to go with a Benzema side-foot finish. It was just the perfomance that could lift a squad which had been underperforming for years. Frank Ribery was the top scorer in the qualification phase with 5 goals.
Solid and Balanced Defence
With captain Hugo Lloris guarding the goal, and defenders like Mamadou Sakho, Rafael Varane, Eliaquim Mangala and Laurent Koscielny as centre backs, France have a defence which will be very hard to penetrate for even the sharpest of attacks. Hugo Lloris may have had a difficult campaign this season with Spurs, but has shown time and again why he is one of the best sweeper-keepers in the world. Rafael Varane is coming off an impressive Champions League final performance while Sakho and Koscielny too have had good seasons in England for Liverpool and Arsenal respectively.
At the full-back positions too France have got good depth with Lucas Digne and Patrice Evra fighting for the left-back spot, and Mathieu Debuchy and Bacary Sagna competing at right-back. The defence makes for one which on paper is as good as any team in the competition and if they can replicate their club performances for their country, they will arguably be one of the best teams this World Cup.
Fluid and Entertaining Midfield
The Paris Saint Germain duo Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye are both likely to play with either of them having the individual qualities to be a game-changer. Alongside both of them will be Paul Pogba at the heart of midfield. Paul Pogba has been a revelation this season for Juventus breaking into their MVP (Marchisio, Vidal, Pirlo) midfield and is one of the first names on the team sheet. Nicknamed the Octopus, he is surely one to watch out for this World Cup.
On the wings, France’s star man Franck Ribery is certain to start. Ribery has stated that this will be his last World Cup so he will be itching to dominate and rip apart defences one last time at the biggest stage in football. On the other flank, Mathieu Valbuena is also very likely to start in Didier Deschamps line-up despite a quite mediocre season for Marseille. As a back-up winger, Real Sociedad’s wonder kid Antoine Griezmann will be a useful weapon. He much like Paul Pogba will be one to keep an eye out for. With players like Clement Grenier and Moussa Sissoko also on the bench, France have a brilliant and well balanced midfield with tough tackling, creative and goal scoring players.
Potent and Powerful Attack
Karim Benzema starting up front is a certainty. While he may have the occasional off-game, on his day he is one of the best strikers in the World. There must be a reason why he starts for the Champions of Europe, Real Madrid every week. It is because he can score goals, and that is all you essentially need from a striker. Loic Remy and Olivier Giroud are able strikers themselves, with both having good goal scoring seasons for Newcastle United and Arsenal respectively. While on paper they are far from the best strike force this World Cup, and no where near better than previous French striking greats like Thierry Henry or Nicolas Anelka, yet they can put up a strong show given the midfield's prowress.
It seems most people have completely ruled out France being a threat at the Cup and it is about time the Blues live up to their massive potential. France nicknamed as they need a huge turnaround after a disappointing few years. While the Hugo Lloris led side may not be favourites, they are certainly in the running to surprise us all and pull of a massive achievement. Will this be the year of the French?