France was one of the four European teams that participated at the inaugural edition of the World Cup in 1930 and have appeared in 14 FIFA World Cups, tied for the sixth most of any country. They are one of the eight teams to have won at least one FIFA World Cup title. France won their only World Cup as host in 1998. They beat Brazil 3–0 in the final match. France hosted the 1938 edition, but were eliminated by defending champions Italy in the quarter finals. In 2006, France finished as runners-up losing 5–3 on penalties to Italy. The team has also finished in third place on two occasions in 1958 and 1986 and in fourth place once in 1982.
They qualified by topping Europe’s Group B, which featured Netherlands and Sweden, but qualification was closer than expected. They finished four points ahead of both the Dutch and the Swedes, losing to Janne Andersson’s side away and also dropping points against Belarus and Luxembourg.
A maximum point’s haul was not expected, but it was feasible, so the loss in Sweden and the home draw with Luxembourg was disappointing.
France boast an abundance of young talent and strength (not to mention quality) in depth that almost every other nation can only dream of. With the exception of a few select positions, notably left-back and right-back, Deschamps has an enviable array of proven star quality or exceptional promise to choose from. The 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship-winning captain is going to have a stronger headache than most in deciding who to leave behind this summer.
Les Bleus have started to believe their own hype, and as history will attest, that is not a good thing. Back in 2013, France rode the crest of a wave of national unity as the nation fell back in love with their footballers after a lengthy period of turmoil to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
That “feel-good” factor carried over into Euro 2016 on home soil but has since worn off. Deschamps, who has had his contract renewed until 2020, has come in for criticism for not getting better out of this squad, while big stars like Manchester United’s Paul Pogba have been accused of not doing enough for the team. This summer in Russia will be critical for the current French generation.
Despite boasting the likes of Pogba and Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe, Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann remains France’s talisman. However, Griezmann is not immune to the issues currently ailing Deschamps’ squad, and his return of four goals from 10 qualification appearances reflected the nation’s bumpy road to Russia.
France should top Group C ahead of Australia, Denmark and Peru but find things harder in the latter stages. Argentina, Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria are all possibilities in the round of 16, while Portugal, Spain, Russia, Uruguay and Egypt could all follow in the quarterfinals.
Les Bleus will probably reach the last eight, but going further than that will require a significant change in attitude. Perhaps the tournament will bring exactly that, making the semifinals a distinct possibility.
Captain: Hugo Lloris
Manager: Didier Deschamps
FIFA Rank (as of April 12, 2018): 7
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Author: Our Correspondents