Captain: Hugo Lloris
Manager: Didier Deschamps
Nickname: Les Bleus
FIFA Rank: 7
How they qualified: Winners of European Group B ahead of Sweden
Preferred system: 4-4-2 or 4-3-3
Star player: Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid)
One to watch: Kylian Mbappé (Paris St-Germain)
Manger Didier Deschamps quotes “We are not at the same level as Germany, Spain and Brazil just yet”. “We may not control all our games with the same authority but still, we have a strong and competitive team with a great potential.” France blew hot and cold in qualifying, winning their group despite losing to Sweden and drawing against Belarus and Luxembourg. Deschamps has a thrilling and explosive attack of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé. There is a strong midfield built around Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté, lots of technical ability all around with such as Thomas Lemar and a sound defensive axis. Still, France appear more effective when playing on the break and using their speed. The weakest link? The left-back position with the injury to Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy.
The French team topped Europe’s Group B, which featured Netherlands and Sweden, but qualification was closer than expected. Deschamps’ men 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 points 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. Griezmann had a solid year for Athletico leading them to victory in the Europa Final.
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 the tournament will bring exactly that, making the semifinals a distinct possibility. I have them meeting and beating Portugal if they live up to their reputation then going onto the semi finals against Brazil, where there defensive unit will be exposed.