In the wake of Franck Ribery’s withdrawal due to injury, what kind of chance does Didier Deschamps’ France squad have in the World Cup? Jack Cahill discusses Les Bleus’ World Cup prospects.
Despite having a squad full of star names and a rich tournament history, many have written France off as nothing more than an underdog, or at best a dark horse. Animal analogies aside, France are currently 25/1 to win the World Cup, and although that makes them the bookies sixth favourite to win the World Cup, most have already written them off.
Les Bleus’ last foray in on the world stage resulted in the unmitigated disaster that was the 2010 World Cup in Africa. They qualified for this World Cup in dramatic fashion through the playoffs and have suffered a massive blow with the recent news that star player Franck Ribery will miss out on the tournament with a back injury. These things considered, should France be considered sixth favourites?
Many will view Ribery’s absence as detrimental to France’s hopes and odds may even rise accordingly, such is his influence within the squad. Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin has been called up in his place however it is likely to be Real Sociedad winger Antoine Griezmann who will benefit most from his absence. The promising winger has had another good season in La Liga and is being courted by a number of high profile clubs such as PSG and Manchester Utd.
As good as Griezmann is, France will definitely miss the creative talents and blistering pace of Ribery. But there is certainly no need to despair. The French midfield boasts a huge amount of creative talent with Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Valbuena making up a midfield trio capable of picking any defence apart.
France’s recent friendly against Norway highlighted the potency in that midfield as Valbuena picked up three assists. They also trounced Jamaica 8-0 on Sunday night.
France boast what is arguably the most promising defence in international football. Raphael Varane (21) has had an excellent season with Real Madrid, Eliaquim Mangala (23) has inspired a battle for his signature between both Manchester clubs, and both Lucas Digne (20) and Mamadou Sakho (24) are burgeoning talents. These younger players will fight for selection against the more experienced Evra, Sagna, and Koscielny with the result being a very solid back line.
With Hugo Lloris between the sticks and a choice between Giroud, Benzema and Remy up-front, France clearly have an exceptional team on paper. However, as we all know paper and reputation have little to do with the World Cup.
This is no more evident when looking back at France’s 2010 World Cup squad. A team full of star names and unquestionable talent imploded in Africa as controversy and feuding destroyed their collective ambition.
Like England, France have a huge weight of expectation from their supporters and the media. However, also like England, expectation is low following less than inspiring performances in recent tournaments. The absence of overwhelming pressure may just work in Les Bleus’ favour and a youthful team labelled as underdogs may just reap the benefits.
Writing off France could prove costly although their Group E competitors Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras will be acutely aware of their abilities. Switzerland managed a win against Spain in their opening game in the World Cup 2010 and qualified with ease for this World Cup. Both Honduras and Ecuador managed draws with England in the last week and have proven they are not just there to make up the numbers.
Also, a reconciliation of the differences within the squad which has seen the team crumble in the past will be an inestimable benefit. Olivier Giroud has recently alluded to the positive mood within the camp and their eagerness to move on from past failures:
“We had a big disappointment at the last one [World Cup] but it is part of the past. Now we have a really good squad so we have a good chance.”
“We had bad memories from the World Cup and the last Euros, but they are behind us and 1998 is the past – you have to look forward. We have the support of the French people, so that is a good thing for us.”
All this considered, France will still be expected to get out of their group before falling at the first round of the knockout stages. However, even without the talents of Franck Ribery, a French side composed of a mix of youthful exuberance and genuine world-class talent have every chance of upsetting the odds and making a push for the final in Rio.
It is undoubtedly a shame that Ribery won’t be present on football’s biggest stage. However, France will move on without him and with some luck, they could raise a few eyebrows with a good cup run.
Jack Cahill, Pundit Arena.