France opens up their 2018 World Cup with a significant amount of seemingly untapped potential. Can that potential turn into a success?
After losing the 2016 European Championship final in heartbreaking fashion, the French are now firmly established as one of the favorites of the tournament.
Didier Deschamps’ men have a relatively straightforward group, but as they progress deeper into the tournament, we’ll see if their depth and talent can overcome their lack of experience.
Let’s take a look at the 23 man squad France will take to Russia.
- Alphonse Areola (PSG)
- Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
- Steve Mandanda (Marseille)
- Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid)
- Presnel Kimpembe (PSG)
- Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City)
- Benjamin Pavard (Stuttgart)
- Adil Rami (Marseille)
- Djibril Sidibe (Monaco)
- Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona)
- Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
- N’Golo Kante (Chelsea)
- Blaise Matuidi (Juventus)
- Steven N’Zonzi (Sevilla)
- Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
- Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich)
- Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona)
- Nabil Fekir (Lyon)
- Olivier Giroud (Chelsea)
- Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)
- Thomas Lemar (Monaco)
- Kylian Mbappe (PSG)
- Florian Thauvin (Marseille)
Who Will Start?
The starting XI appears to be more or less set, with a few spots still up for grabs. Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, and Djibril Sidibe are all locks to start defensively. Left back will be between Theo Hernandez and Benjamin Mendy—Mendy has been hurt all season long, so Hernandez might be preferred until Mendy proves his fitness.
The midfield and attack will largely depend on formation. If Deschamps goes with a 4-3-3, expect Pogba, Kante, and Mattudi to start in midfield, with Lemar and Mbappe flanking Griezmann as the lone striker.
If Deschamps opts for a 4-2-3-1, Mattuidi will likely give way to Olivier Giroud, who will play up front, with Griezmann in behind.
For defensive stability and energy, I expect Deschamps to go with the former.
Hernandez, Umtiti, Varane, Sidibe;
Pogba, Mattuidi, Kante;
Lemar, Griezmann, Mbappe
France is taking seven forwards to Russia, so it is clearly a big strength.
They have pace (Mbappe, Lemar, Dembele) precision (Griezmann, Lemar, Thauvin), and physicality (Giroud). France’s front line can hurt teams in a number of ways, and many of them have played together already, whether it be for club or country. Expect the French to score in bunches this summer.
Real tournament experience.
Much of the core of the 2014 group that went to the quarterfinals has left, and there is a noticeable new crop of young, attacking players. Mbappe, Lemar, Umtiti, Dembele, and Fekir are among the French players who are being asked to go deep into their first World Cup. We’ll see how well Deschamps and the elder statesman on the team (Lloris, Giroud, even Paul Pogba) will lead them into battle.
France’s depth is beyond a joke. They left so many outstanding players at home, and yet it is difficult to argue with any of Deschamps’ final selections. Laurent Koscielny and Dimitri Payet miss out due to injury—both could have really benefited the squad.
Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman, who both featured at Euro 2016, have been excluded, as has Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette. Adrian Rabiot, who has had a terrific year for PSG, has also been excluded.
Other players who are on standby: Wissam Ben Yedder, Lucas Digne, Mamadou Sakho, Moussa Sissoko, Kurt Zouma.
France can absolutely win this tournament. They have a fairly easy group, and have a somewhat favorable path to the semifinals—they would meet Portugal in the Last 8, for a rematch of the Euro 2016 final, which would mean missing out on Belgium, Germany, Spain, Brazil, and Argentina until the semifinals.
In a single game situation, France has the talent to win against anyone. Griezmann is a legitimate superstar, who might be a top 5 player on Earth. The defense is quick and good on the ball. Kante is as good a defensive stopper as any on Earth. And of course, the depth up front means fresh legs will always be at France’s disposal in late game situations.
Ultimately, France has no excuses to exit earlier than the semifinals. If they exit there, it isn’t the end of the world—France will likely be prohibitive favorites in 2022 given their youth.
But despite being mostly made up of kids, who says France can’t make a run at winning it all?