is this the most exciting France squad since 1998?
Twenty years after France’s 1998 World Cup success on home soil, can Manchester United team-mates Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba help France go top of the world again? Francais.ManUtd.com's Aurelien Sagnier provides an answer before tonight’s friendly against hosts Russia…
“I put a lot of thought into the question and, after much deliberation, I must admit the 2006 World Cup squad was superior – but a lot of that was down to the genius of Zinedine Zidane in midfield.
“The current France squad is packed with talent and promises, and it’s only natural that we are considered to be among the main contenders for the title at this summer’s 2018 World Cup. Although last Friday’s 2-3 home loss to Colombia served as a harsh reminder that high potential alone doesn’t equate to trophies, this young generation has certainly raised high expectations.
“In 1998, Didier Deschamps captained France to a historical 3-0 win over Brazil in the World Cup final. This summer in Russia, he will try to emulate Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer, who are the only two men to have won the trophy both as player and managers.
“After being frustrated by Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2014 edition, Deschamps took the nation to the Euro 2016 final in Paris but suffered a shock by losing to Portugal in extra time. This summer, he wants to go one step further by lifting that famous trophy in Moscow.”
“France can count on a crop of early-bloomers: the typical starting XI has an average age of 25 but doesn’t lack experience in high-stake matches at club level. Shielding Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris is a young back-four composed of Barcelona’s Lucas Digne (24) and Samuel Umtiti (24), Real Madrid’s Raphaël Varane (24) and Monaco’s Djibril Sidibé (25).
“There are plenty of options in the engine room, but apart from Blaise Matuidi (Juventus) and N’Golo Kante (Chelsea), the eldest midfielder - our very own Paul Pogba - just turned 25. Other players like Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich) or Adrien Rabiot (Paris) have plenty ahead of them.
“But it’s probably the selection of forwards which gives Deschamps the worst headaches: he usually trusts Chelsea’s towering Olivier Giroud as the front man and Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann in a free role, but his wingers are plentiful, with Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Thomas Lemar (Monaco), Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona) and Anthony Martial to choose from. Even in the absence of injured Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal), France can count on Wissam Ben Yedder, whose brace for Sevilla recently eliminated United from the UEFA Champions League at the last-16 stage.“
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“Pogba has been almost ever-present since his first call-up in 2013, and it’s rare to see him outside the starting XI: he has started in 43 of his 50 caps and scored eight goals. Although the Reds midfielder was a second-half substitute against Colombia last Friday, he’s a leading figure in the midfield. His capacity to go forward and pick a partner from 30 metres away makes him a real threat.
“Martial has enjoyed a rockier ride with the national team. Although he had his first cap just after joining United during the summer 2015, he has sometimes suffered from the harsh competition for spots, meaning he was overlooked for a year until the last round of friendlies. He certainly hopes to improve his statistics for France, but you could say he rises to the big occasions: he scored his solitary international goal against Italy and provided an assist in last November’s 2-2 draw to Germany.
“French newspaper L'Equipe reports Deschamps will rotate his squad tonight, starting both Pogba and Martial in a 4-3-3 formation. Here's what the starting XI could look like - experimental at the back, tough in the midfield and speedy up front: Lloris; Hernandez, Umtiti, Koscielny, Pavard; Rabiot, Kanté, Pogba; Martial, Mbappe, Dembele.”
MUTV subscribers in the UK and Ireland can watch Russia v France from 16:30 BST.