Beset by divisions at the last World Cup, sneaking through via the play-offs after a lacklustre qualifying campaign, criticised by their media, lacking one of their star players, tipped by no-one – yes, France have a great chance of going deep into the World Cup, says Tim Oscroft...
France have been alternately great or awful at the last four World Cups – winners in 1998, out in the first round without a win or a goal in 2002, runners-up in 2006 and falling at the first hurdle again four years ago. On that basis they’re due one, as they say, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
Prior to the second leg of their play-off against Ukraine, France were given no chance of overturning a two-goal deficit by 84% of French fans polled, but a stirring 3-0 win defied the odds as well as the nay-sayers. Franck Ribery’s back injury has denied manager Didier Deschamps the services of one of his best players, but if the disciplinary issues of the past don’t reappear then a squad containing Karim Benzema, former Red midfielder Paul Pogba and a host of Premier League stars including United’s own Patrice Evra can go a long way over the next month.
He’s no shoo-in, with PSG’s Lucas Digne vying for the left-back berth, but if Deschamps wants experience then he will look no further than the warrior-like Evra, who has a habit of rising to the big occasion. Man-for-man, France look like the best team in their group alongside Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland. If they can win it, they will face the runners-up from Argentina’s group – and I’ll be amazed if that turns out to Lionel Messi and friends.
After that, anything could happen but with many tipping Belgium as the unfancied team this year, I’ll go with their near-neighbours to make it as far as the last four.