France - World Cup 2014 Team Profile
Sean O'Conor reports
Road to Brazil
France finished second to World Champions Spain in UEFA Group I to advance to a play-off with Ukraine. A dispiriting 2-0 loss in Kiev was repelled by a storming 3-0 victory in Paris with Karim Benzema and Mamadou Sakho, twice, on the mark.
France Kit 1
France Kit 2
It all looked so bleak as Ukraine went into the showers two goals up at the end of the first leg and confident of qualifying, but France proved the doubters wrong at the Stade de France with a fighting spirit worthy of Napoleon to overhaul their deficit and stamp their own ticket to Brazil.
The relief was enormous and the French public were also glad to have the chance to purge the humiliation of South Africa 2010 from their memories. Knysna, where the squad went on strike after Nicolas Anelka's spat with the risible Raymond Domenech led to fisticuffs between players and the coaching staff, remains an ominous word in France.
Like Colombia, France were rocked by the loss of their star player to injury on the eve of the tournament. And like the coffee-growers, they have no option but to keep calm and carry on.
Didier Deschamps favours a 4-2-3-1 formation but against Ukraine used a 4-3-3 to great effect.
The back four looks fairly solid, though not on the same level as the wonderful Thuram-Desailly-Blanc-Lizarazu partnership of 1998.
Laurent Koscielny and Raphael Varane are the central defenders, one usually but not always reliable for Arsenal and the other a Champions League winner with Real Madrid last month at the age of 21. Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho has also featured alongside Varane, and scored, improbably, twice against Ukraine.
Overlapping full backs are the order of the day for France. Newcastle's Mathieu Debuchy should start at right-back and on the left is Manchester United's Patrice Evra, who is overflowing with experience but aged 33 may find younger legs out-run him in the heat of Brazil.
For any weaknesses there may be in the defence, France do at least have possibly the best goalkeeper at the World Cup in Hugo Lloris behind them. Lloris' reflexes and shot-stopping powers are first class and will save Les Bleus from disaster on many occasions in Brazil.
Like Varane & PSG defender Lucas Digne, Juventus starlet Paul Pogba has joined the French set-up recently and so does not carry the baggage of the Knysna nightmare. The 21 year old was outstanding this season as Juve won the Serie A title, and French hopes at the World Cup now hang on his young shoulders.
Sharing the midfield duties is PSG's Blaise Matuidi, whose physical prowess and interceptive skills complement Pogba's creativity well. PSG club colleague Yohan Cabaye, formerly of Newcastle, is nominally the link between the midfield and the attack, but as the best playmaker in the side, he has been used behind Pogba and Matuidi, most notably in the second leg against Ukraine. An alternative is to use Marseille's Mathieu Valbuena on the right.
Attacking options look slim now Ribery has gone and perhaps too much is expected of Benzema as the lone striker. Oliver Giroud is unlikely to instill fear in many defences but leads the line usefully. QPR's Loic Remy is the only tried and tested alternative. Doubling the strikeforce in a 4-4-2 might be the solution but Deschamps has shown no inclination to go down that road.
France have discipline and team spirit as they showed against Spain in the qualifiers, and will not go down without a fight. La Roja were held 1-1 in Spain and won only 1-0 in Paris. On the other hand, the suspicion is that they are not in the elite group of nations in Brazil and the best they can hope for is the last eight.
Key player: Karim Benzema
With Franck Ribery out the picture with back trouble, the onus for goals now falls upon this man, but his form can be maddeningly inconsistent. Anyone who starts up front for Real Madrid must be good, and Benzema on his day can destroy most defences, but his inexplicably barren spells also mean he cannot be relied upon to produce a Just Fontaine-esque goal haul in Brazil.
One to watch: Paul Pogba
Only 21 and with a handful of caps to his name since his debut last year, Paul Pogba finds himself thrust into the limelight following a scudetto-winning season with Juventus.His impressive displays at the heart of the national team's midfield have inked his name onto the teamsheet for Brazil and he could turn out to be not only France's leading light but one of the best young players in the tournament.
Coach: Didier Deschamps
He remains a legend in France for lifting their only World Cup amongst other trophies, which gives his smug personality some leeway. The rest of the world rather remembers the French skipper running to the referee waving an imaginary card every time one of his teammates was fouled.
After the descent into chaos under Domenech in South Africa however, a strong-headed foreman is perhaps just what the French needed. And Deschamps has certainly shown who is boss by dropping the talented Samir Nasri for the sake of squad harmony, their Achilles Heel four years ago. As part of France's rainbow nation of World Cup winners in 1998, Deschamps learnt from coach Aime Jacquet the necessity of forging a collective esprit de corps above all else.
While the French public is not exactly thrilled about the World Cup, with a public approval rating as high as 89% (in a poll for Canal Plus), Deschamps could once more mobilise a nation's feelings behind the national team. But he will be judged on his results first.
Winners 1998; Runners-up 2006; Semi-Final 1958, 1982, 1986; Second Round 1982; First Round 1930, 1934, 1954,1966, 1978, 2002, 2010
It cannot be as bad as last time seems the general consensus, when some members of the squad committed hara-kiri, and as with England, the fact France arrive in Brazil with no pressure on them to perform will be to their advantage.
The impression that France were handed an easy draw with a beaming Michel Platini looking on are wide of the mark. Switzerland are a tough tournament side and Ecuador have spades of ability going forward.
France will rely on a core of first-teamers to perform as their wider squad looks weak. The loss of Ribery is huge, but if the single-minded Deschamps can hammer the team into the right mental shape to re-group quickly, France have enough talent to make the knock-out stages.If they can avoid Argentina in the Round of 16 they can make the quarter-finals, but first they must ensure the loss of their best player does not leave too big a hole.
2014 World Cup Squad
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Stephane Ruffier (St. Etienne), Mickael Landreau (Bastia)
Defenders: Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Eliaquim Mangala (Porto), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Lucas Digne (PSG), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (PSG), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille), Rio Mavuba (Lille), Blaise Matuidi (PSG), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Remy Cabella (Montpellier), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton)
Strikers: Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad), Loic Remy (QPR)