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France

Coach: Didier Deschamps

Top All-Time Scorer: Thierry Henry (51)

Top scorers in qualifying: Antoine Greizmann / Olivier Giroud (4)

Player to watch: Kylian Mbappe

World Cup appearances: 15

Tournament best: Champions (1998)

FIFA Ranking: 7 ELO Ranking: 5

Kit: Dark blue shirt, white shorts, red socks

Nickname: Les Bleus (The Blues)

GROUP FIXTURES

Saturday 16th, June @11:00

France v Australia

Kazan Arena

Thursday 21st, June @16:00

France v Peru

Ekaterinburg Arena

Tuesday 26th, June @15:00

Denmark v France

Luzhniki Stadium

France are one of the few teams that can be considered potential World Cup winners with plenty in their favour as they head to Russia. Rated fourth favourites for the tournament behind Germany, Brazil, and Spain, the French have a very talented squad, recent experience of reaching a final at Euro 2016 and arrive at the tournament in good form.

Although it is a relatively young side, manager Didier Deschamps also has several very experienced players to balance his team. The squad features a great mixture of flair, creativity, grit, and defensive nous, and France have been drawn in a group they will be roundly expected to win. Les Bleus reached the final of the European Championships they hosted in 2016 but lost out to Portugal in extra-time, can they go one better in Russia and lift the World Cup for the first time since 1998?

World Cup Record

France won the World Cup when they hosted it in 1998 with a side featuring the likes of Zidane, Henry, Petit, and Viera, that went on to win the 2000 European Championships. Since competing in their first World Cup in 1930, France have missed out six times – once when they withdrew in 1950, and five times when they failed to qualify in 1962, 1970, 1974, 1990, and 1994. However, they have qualified for all five renewals since lifting the trophy in ‘98.

The next World Cup in Japan and Korea in 2002 was a disaster that earned France the unenviable record of the worst performance of a champion in the tournament. Without the injured Zidane they fell to a 1-0 defeat to Senegal in the opening group match, before Henry was sent off in a 0-0 draw against Uruguay in the next game. A final 2-0 defeat to Denmark saw the French finish bottom of the group without even scoring a goal.

It was a much-improved performance in 2006 where they reached the final, but it is a game which will be remembered for Zidane’s famous headbutt on Italian defender Marco Materazzi. France finished 2nd in their group in the tournament held in Germany, setting up a tough route to the final. They beat Spain 3-1 in the second round, before beating Brazil 1-0 in the quarter-finals and Portugal by the same scoreline in the semi-finals. The final itself ended 1-1 in normal time after both Zidane and Materazzi scored first-half goals. In extra-time the two exchanged words before Zidane thrust his head into Materazzi’s chest, knocking him to the ground. The French playmaker was shown a red card and Italy went on to win the trophy by prevailing 5-3 in a penalty shootout.

Once again in 2010, a good performance was followed by a bad one as France crashed out at the group stage in South Africa amid unrest in the squad. 2014 in Brazil was a much better showing as France won their group ahead of Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras. They saw off Nigeria 2-0 in the second phase, but went down 1-0 to eventual winners Germany in the quarter-finals.

The Squad

It’s the French strength in depth which puts them among the favourites for the tournament, with some of Europe’s most talented players turning out for Les Bleus. In forward areas, Deschamps has an embarrassment of riches to choose from headed by Atletico Madrid star Antoine Griezmann, who top-scored at Euro 2016 winning the Golden Boot and Player of the Tournament. Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud has over 70 caps and is a firm favourite with Deschamps, but young stars Kylian Mbappe (PSG) and Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona) are chomping at the bit to be selected.

Midfield is also full of top European players, with the creativity of Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Thomas Lemar (Monaco), and Florian Thauvin (Marseille). They will be given the platform to strut their stuff by the formidable N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) and Blaise Matuidi (Juventus). In defence, Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny will miss out due to injury but Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti could form a great partnership in front of Spurs’ Hugo Lloris.  

The list of players left out of the squad includes Lacazette, Martial, Payet, Rabiot, and Coman – a stark indication of the quality that France have to choose from.

In terms of formation, Deschamps rarely deviates from a back four but has used various line-ups in recent matches, switching between 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, and 4-3-3, depending on the opposition.

Route to the Finals

France were drawn in UEFA qualifying group A which, on paper, looked a tough section containing both Sweden and the Netherlands. They got off to a poor start too – possibly still reeling from that Euro 2016 final defeat – drawing 0-0 away to Belarus in the first World Cup qualifier in September. However, they won the next four games to take control of the group, including a 1-0 away victory in the Netherlands and a 2-1 home win over Sweden.

The reverse fixture with the Swedes was memorable for a rare Hugo Lloris mistake which gifted Sweden a late winner in a 2-1 victory. Ultimately it was the Scandinavians who would push France closest as the Netherlands continued to self-implode. After failing to qualify for Euro 2016, the Dutch were not faring any better in World Cup qualifying – a 2-0 away defeat to Bulgaria in March 2017 costing them heavily in the end.

After the loss to Sweden, France thumped the Netherlands 4-0 in Paris to maintain their grip on first place. A surprise 0-0 home draw with Luxembourg was a setback but the French went on to win their last two matches against Bulgaria and Belarus to secure top spot and automatic qualification for Russia 2018. They finished with a 7-2-1 record from ten games, scoring eighteen goals and conceding six.

How Far Can They Go?

The short answer is they can go all the way. France have every chance of competing for the trophy and will be many punters idea of the outright winner. As well as having a first-class squad, they also have the recent experience of going all the way to a final at Euro 2016 and will have a burning desire to go one better this time around.

The French should win a group containing Denmark, Peru and Australia, after which they will face the second-placed side in Argentina’s group. From there it could be a tricky quarter-final tie, with the most likely opponents Uruguay, Portugal or Spain. France are certainly good enough to go toe-to-toe with any of those sides and a place in the semi-finals is well within reach.

Best bet

France to reach the semi-finals @ 11/8