France will return to defend their second world title in football history. The first time happened exactly 20 years ago, but things didn’t turn out quite as expected. In the opening game of the tournament, they immediately lost to Senegal. France followed that hot start up with a 0 : 0 tie against Uruguay and finally a loss to Denmark. Three games. One point. Zero goals. Taking a glance at who France shares group D with shows a decent chance that history won’t repeat itself this time. After all, they breezed through the qualifiers with ease and finished with 6 more points than the runner-up Ukraine.
How do they play?
After a disastrous EURO 2020, where France lost to Switzerland in the round of 16, Didier Deschamps decided it was crucial France switched over to the 3-man defensive system. He’s been beating that drum right up to September and it is unlikely he’s planning to change that right before the World Cup. France has probably the most dangerous two-man-tandem at the tip of their spear – Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe. This will enable them to create space for each other and be a threat for any defensive line. In fast breaks the team can count on Mbappe’s cheetah-like speed. In positional play the team benefits from Benzema’s shrewd movements.
Why they can win?
There is no doubt that when playing against France an opponent’s biggest question is “how can we stop the dynamic duo of Benzema and Mbappe” (maybe not in those exact words). Plus, it’s pretty much guaranteed that Benzema will be flying to Qatar hungry for success, as he has yet to win a title with the national team. And even if they manage to lock down Benzema and/or Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, who has always played his best at national games, is there ready to pounce. Remember, Griezmann was the brains behind the French operation four years ago and the one who made their offense run like a well oiled machine. Deschamps has always been able to count on him and that has unlikely changed.
Update 21.11.2022. Benzema is out of the World Cup after suffering an injury during practise!
Why they can lose?
The French need to be wary of what goes on behind their own lines. N’Golo Kante, who is one of the world’s best defensive midfielders to date, is forced to miss the World Cup due to an injury. Deschamps has been attempting to work around this fact with different formations, but has yet to nail down a sure-fire defensive line. Hugo Lloris is undoubtedly capable of making some extraordinary saves in the goal but he can slip up from time to time as well. They did let in a goal in 5 games out of 6 in the Nations League – a fact that doesn’t really inspire much confidence. There may also be questions around the midfield in general, because Pogba and Kante are injured, Blaise Matuidi’s club career is over, and all of the defensive midfielders who willed France to the sought after world title just 4 years ago are absent.
The leading stars
France finds itself in such an enviable position that even if Kante or Paul Pogba for example are forced to miss the tournament, there would still be plenty of stars to go around. If Mbappe or Benzema or Griezmann were to have an off day, they could always use the highly qualified Olivier Giroud. If experience is not the solution, France can always play the speed card and bet on Ousmane Dembele or Kingsley Coman to help them get their way.
The fresh faces
It is possible that France’s fate at the World Cup rests with the young midfielders from Real Madrid. The 19-year-old Eduardo Camavinga and the 21-year-old Aurelien Tchouameni are both plenty capable of getting the French engine revved up. But do they have enough mettle to keep doing that for 7 straight games and right up to the finals? Deschamps will definitely back the young guns up from the defensive line and Dayot Upamecano, Bayern Munich’s 24-year-old pillar of support, will probably need to pick up a decent amount of slack as well.