It has been 20 years since France famously lifted the Jules Rimet trophy on home soil, and there is now a feeling that Les Bleus are capable of following that memorable triumph with a second World Cup win at Russia this summer.
France have an embarrassment of riches to call on in every position, so it is no surprise that their odds of emerging as World Cup winners has them placed as fourth favourites, just slightly behind Spain, Germany and Brazil in the betting markets. Didier Deschamps’ side cruised through qualification, topping a tough group that also included Sweden and the Netherlands.
In Antoine Griezmann, Les Bleus have one of the most talented and in-form strikers in the world. The 27-year-old scored two sumptuous goals in Atletico Madrid’s 3-0 victory over Marseilles in the recent Europa League final and is now on the verge of a switch to Barcelona. Griezmann was the top scorer at Euro 2016 and is currently among the favourites to secure the Golden Boot. He brings more than goals though, as the forward is a crucial link in the team’s attacking play and also brings a tireless work ethic.
France have arguably the best young side on paper out of all 32 teams competing at the World Cup. Wonderkids Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele have already commanded transfer fees in excess of €100m, while Thomas Lemar is one of the most sought after talents in Europe. Mbappe is likely to start out wide in a 4-3-3 lineup alongside Griezmann and target man Olivier Giroud, but Deschamp has a range of options available to him.
A midfield trio will ably support the forward three with Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante at the base, which could give Paul Pogba license to showcase his more creative side. Blaise Matuidi is tipped to be a starter, but Bayern Munich’s Corentin Tolisso will be nipping at his heels hoping to feature during the tournament.
One area where France have improved significantly since their defeat to Portugal in the final of Euro 2016 is defence. Back then, veterans Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna were occupying the fullback roles, but they can now call on the young and energetic duo of Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe. Rapha Varane continues to impress at Madrid and is likely to partner Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti in the centre of defence with captain Hugo Lloris in goal.
It is all rather impressive, but there are still question marks about temperament, which has often been Les Bleus’ undoing at international tournaments. The individual talent on display should certainly be enough to see them through the group phase, but they will need to show togetherness and consistency in order to advance in the knockout stages and potentially win the tournament.
French fans should be confident. There are no visible weaknesses, and Deschamps will hopefully have learnt a lot from the excellent showing in 2016, where they should have won against a limited Portugal side. If Les Blues can cultivate a sense of belief, there is no reason why they can’t make 2018 another year to remember in French football history.