Soccer

World Cup Team Profile - France

Group: E

Confederation: UEFA

Coach: Didier Deschamps

Captain: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur)

Full France Roster

The Road to Rio: For the second straight time, France was forced to take the long road to the World Cup. Drawn unfortunately together Spain, France was keeping step with the defending Champs right up to the point they rolled into Stade de France.

Having held the Spaniards to a draw in Madrid, Les Bleus entered with the advantage. They would see that advantage evaporate as Pedro’s 48th-minute marker would hand the French their only loss of qualification and provide the three-point cushion that would prove the difference between automatic qualification and a playoff round.

France drew a tough opponent in Ukraine and looked up against it when they left Kiev down 2-0. A historic turnaround was waiting for them at home, however, as the French stormed to a stunning comeback. Mamadou Sakho lifted Stade de France with his opening mark in the 22nd minute and sent it into a frenzy 50 minutes later with what would prove to be the 3-2 aggregate winner.

Last World Cup appearance: South Africa 2010 (Group Stage)
First World Cup appearance: Uruguay 1930 (Group Stage)
Previous World Cup appearances: 13
Best World Cup finish: Champions (France 1998)

After the 2010 World Cup for the French went as badly as Murphy's Law would allow thanks to a prostitution scandal and the antics of the ever-pleasant Nicolas Anelka and an inauspicious Euro, few are expecting much out of Les Bleus in Brazil. Still with talent and pace to spare, France could emerge as one of the tournament's biggest dark horses and should not be slept on, especially in a group with no clear-cut favourite.

If they are to do so, however, it will have to be done without talisman Franck Ribery. The Bayern Munich maestro was ruled out of the World Cup with a nagging back injury (as was Lyon midfielder Clement Grenier, with the pair being replaced by Montpellier's Remy Cabella and Morgan Schneiderlin of Southampton). What does that mean for Didier Deschamps's offence, one that was expected to rely heavily on the industry and pace of one of Europe's supreme talents? Well, Ribery's absence provides an opportunity for some of France's young guns to step up.

Midfielder Paul Pogba, let go on a free transfer by Manchester United two summers ago, has emerged as a dominant force for Serie A champions Juventus. Pogba is one of the most complete young midfielders in the game right now and seems destined for superstar-status. Although relatively new to the French set-up (capped just nine times by the senior team), Pogba has already become indispensable in the middle of the park for Les Bleus. Look for him to play alongside PSG pair Blaise Matuidi, the hard man, and set-piece wizard, Yohan Cabaye.

If Deschamps sticks with his favoured 4-3-3, the main concern becomes who slots in for Ribery on the left. With Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille) likely employed on the right, one of Loic Remy (Newcastle) or blossoming star Antoine Greizmann (Real Sociedad) could be shifted over to the left. That said, no Ribery could force Deschamps into a 4-4-2, something that he has used in the past, with Valbuena dropping back and one of Greizmann or Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) starting up front with Real Madrid hitman, Karim Benzema.

At the back, look for a central defence pairing of Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) and Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) in front of captain Lloris with Newcastle's Mathieu Debeuchy and Manchester United veteran Patrice Evra marauding at full-back.

Even without Ribery, there is skill to spare in this French side. In a group up for grabs, Les Bleus should move on to the Round of 16. From there, it's anybody's guess, but there are few sides who will relish a date with the French come time for the knockout rounds.



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