As ‘Young France’ remains one step shorter to repeat the dream to win a World Cup, for the 2nd time; the million dollar question looms: Can they?
Nearly two years ago, France had the chance to collect their first major trophy since winning Euro 2000, but fell at the last hurdle, humbled by a resilient Portugal team in their own backyard.
Veterans like Patrice Evra, Bacary Sagna, Andre-Pierré Gignac and Yohann Cabaye have departed this squad, and it could be to France’s benefit – this is one of the most well-rounded French squads in recent memory. Hugo Lloris, the team captain, is widely considered one of the most talented goalkeepers in the Premier League and has been consistently excellent, if not exceptional, for a number of years. The Spurs stopper has an impressive record of 73 clean sheets in 203 appearances for the North Londoners, 14 coming this season.
With France opting to play a 4-3-3 formation, the midfield trio is hugely important in controlling the tempo of the game, protecting the defence and supplying the attackers. N’Golo Kanté will almost certainly sit in front of the defence, breaking up play before it gets to the final third. Even with a dip in form this year, there are still few who rival him in that position. The Lyon man has a penchant for scoring decisive and spectacular goals, and has had an extremely impressive campaign already, with 17 goals and 7 assists. Dimitri Payet, who, at 31, may be playing his last international tournament, is in the same mould as Fekir, and has dug France out of a few holes before. He may have the opportunity to do it again.
Deschamps’ most difficult decision may come when deciding who will operate wide of the main striker. The French manager will have to choose from Kylian Mbappé, Ousmane Dembélé, Anthony Martial, Thomas Lemar and Florian Thauvin – even Kingsley Coman will be hoping to shake an ankle injury before June.
Mbappé, coming off an incredible domestic season for PSG, should have a starting berth nailed down; his pace, eye for goal, and ability to bamboozle defenders will be invaluable. This season, Mbappé has helped himself to 13 goals and 8 assists as the Parisians completely dominated proceedings in France. Assuming his form continues, and at 19 years old, Mbappé may be assured of starting for France for a major part of the next decade.
Antoine Griezmann has the ability to tear any defence to shreds, and will start in the central striking role for Les Bleus. 19 goals and 8 assists in an Atletico team below their best this year is more than a decent return.
He is tasked with keeping Oliver Giroud out of the starting line up. 6 of Giroud’s 10 appearances since moving to Chelsea have come from the bench, and he will probably have to settle for that role in this French team. However, even coming off the bench, he is still a valuable asset, giving the side another dimension from corners and other set pieces.
The average age of this French squad is 25.7, with plenty of players under that threshold. However, we must not confuse youth with inexperience. Not only do the majority of the squad have the experience of genuinely competing for titles, many have actually won them.
The entire squad is riddled with league winners like Kanté, Pogba, Matuidi and Umtiti, among a host of others – Raphael Varane having gone one step further with three Champions League winners’ medals to his name. Whatever way you look at it, whether it be big game experience, fundamental quality, winning mentality or cohesion as a unit, France have all the tools at their disposal to mount a serious challenge for the most coveted trophy in world football; it’s up to them to take the next step.