Two stars who would be looking to lead France back to the top of the pile are Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema and Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery.
Both players have put their sex scandals behind them to enjoy a hugely successful season with their respective club sides. While Ribery has been integral to Bayern’s continued success with four titles this season, Benzema has finally blossomed at Madrid, scoring 24 goals in 51 appearances — almost a goal in every other match.
Their form with the French national team has taken a similar pattern, too, both players proving integral to a qualification campaign that was anything but straightforward. In the second leg play-off game against Ukraine, Benzema and Ribery ensured a spot in Brazil this summer with a goal and an assist respectively in the 3-0 win, overturning a miserable 2-0 first leg defeat. To emphasise their importance, Benzema’s return to form and Ribery’s 6 goals and 9 assists of France’s last 27 goals nearly took France ahead of Spain in their World Cup qualification group.
France’s World Cup experience is a colourful one, filled with both sides of the coin. After winning the tournament on home soil in 1998 with a team armed with Zinedine Zidane’s magic and present coach Didier Deschamp as captain, they were bundled out in 2002 at Korea/Japan, while they bounced back as runners-up four years later in Germany, losing on penalties to Italy.
Perhaps, their South Africa 2010 show of shame was their nadir. Five players were banned from the team, following in-fighting that erupted between players and staff, ignited chiefly by Nikolas Anelka and then-coach Raymond Domenechduring their second game against Mexico.
However, Didier Deschamps — just like his predecessor, Laurent Blanc — has continued to steady the French ship. The 45-year-old has a reputation for managing pressure well, previously leading Juventus out of the Calciopoli scandal of 2006 and back to Serie A from the Serie B. He also led Olympique Marseille to their first French league title in 18 years in 2010.
His time as France coach has been quiet, and he has given back the team its identity, refraining from selecting players who could disrupt the team, as shown by the non-selection of in-form Manchester City forward, Samir Nasri, to his World Cup party. This has given hope to a nation that once boasted the likes of Michel Platini, Just Fontaine, Jean-Pierre Papin and Thierry Henry.
France can still call on a list that includes established names such as Ribery, Benzema, Hugo Lloris, Yohann Cabaye, Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud. Mixed with a growing list of excelling youngsters, such as Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Alexandre Lacazette, the team has chance to restore France to the summit of the world if aided with the right coaching methods.
Although the team qualified via playoffs, it is well-balanced and is rarely run over. They do not drop points from winning position. The midfield and attack are filled with players who can shoot from distance with deadly accuracy (cue Cabaye), an asset in breaking up defensive-minded teams who like to “park the bus”. They can attack well from a distance, as almost a quarter of their goals come from outside the box.
France’s defence is also top-notch, well-marshalled by tough-tackling Arsenal defender, Koscielny.
France’s major problem is in the full-back positions, with Patrice Evra’s tiring legs, and Mathieu Debuchy’s and Bacary Sagna’s susceptibility to errors. Also, attacking from the left flank is not a strength of the team’s, with several players tried without a positive outcome. Scoring from crosses is another problem as their attackers are not skilled in the act (Olivier Giroud, apparently, has forgotten how to use his primary skills that earned him a move to Arsenal).
Deschamps’ team is still trying to gell due to the influx of young players. Therefore, this tournament will come too soon for them. However, they should still be able to make the quarter-finals at the leas — only if they do not meet Nigeria in the second round!