World Cup hopes written in the stars for France

By Dominic Unwin

Why they can win

On paper the French boast one of the strongest squads in Russia and much like fellow challengers Germany their depth is astounding. In skipper Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur) they have a genuine world class stopper. Considering their defence is the least spectacular area his ability and experience could well come in handy.

Les Bleus will have no such problem further forward. Paul Pogba (Manchester United) and N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) will marshal the midfield alongside veteran Blaise Matuidi (Juventus). They will bear the responsibility of supplying the star-studded forward line of Kylian Mbappe (Paris-Saint Germain), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid) and Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona).

And that’s just their starting 11.

If needed, manager Didier Deschamps can call upon the likes of Steven N’Zonzi (Sevilla), Nabil Fekir (Lyon), Thomas Lemar (Monaco) and veteran Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) from what is a menacing bench.

Talent aside this French side have a lot to play for and are at a critical stage in their development as a group. Two years ago they waltzed to the final of the Euros on home soil only to lose to an underdog Portugal team. With the core of that side still around the players will know that it is now or never to seize their opportunity.

This year also marks 20 years since Zinedine Zidane led a 3-nil demolition of Brazil in the World Cup final in Paris and it seems to be written in the stars.

What will stop them

The above-mentioned destiny has caused better teams than France to lose their way. Les Bleus also have a history of self-combusting spectacularly on the world stage. The 2002 and 2010 editions of the tournament saw group-stage exits for the French. Deschamps has a task on his hands to keep the egos of his squad intact.

The manager himself has come under fire for a perceived lack of tactical nous. During European qualifying for the World Cup, only Iceland scored fewer goals of the eventual qualifiers than the French, who netted 18 times in 10 games.

This lack of attacking authority was exasperated by a scoreless draw against part-timers Luxembourg which critics say highlights Deschamps’ inability to drive his team forward. With the onus on France to dictate games against their opposition in Russia, the lack of a cutting edge could prove fatal to their chances.

World Ranking: 7

Coach: Didier Deschamps

The squad

Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda, Alphonse Aerola

Defenders: Lucas Hernandez, Presnel Kimpembe, Benjamin Mendy, Benjamin Pavard, Adil Rami, Djibril Sidibe, Samuel Umtiti, Raphael Varane

Midfielders: N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi, Steven N’Zonzi, Paul Pogba, Corentin Tolisso

Forwards: Ousmane Dembele, Nabil Fekir, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Lemar, Kylian Mbappe, Florian Thauvin

Notable omissions: Dimitri Payet (injured), Anthony Martial, Karim Benzema, Alexander Lacazette, Adrien Rabiot

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