2018 FIFA World Cup contenders – France

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France reached the zenith of football world when they won the 1998 World Cup they hosted. That World Cup winning team was blessed with exceptionally talented players all over the pitch and had the mesmerising talents of Zinedine Zidane to unlock any defence in the world in his prime, which he was in at the time.

The Marseille-born maestro scored a brace in the final against Brazil and Emmanuel Petit scored a late third to help Les Bleus become the world champions for the first time in their history.

Les Bleus’ foray in the quadrennial extravaganza has been a hit and a miss since. They went out from the group stage of the 2002 World Cup after beginning their campaign with a defeat at the hands of first time qualifiers Senegal. A draw against Uruguay and a defeat to Denmark ensured that they finished bottom of the group.

Under the management of Raymond Domenech, the France national team made it to the final of the 2006 World Cup in Germany and came up against fellow Europeans Italy in the summit clash. After a closely fought encounter, the match was settled in the penalty shootout, with French striker David Trezeguet the only one to miss a spot kick that handed the trophy to the Azzurri. The balance of the game had shifted towards the Italians following a red card to Zidane for that infamous head butt on Marco Materazzi after he let fly some expletives in the Frenchman’s direction.

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The 2010 World Cup turned out to be a farce for the French as Domenech’s men created hara-kiri and went out in the first round after finishing bottom of their group with two defeats and a solitary draw.

The performance again improved four years later under Didier Deschamps’ management. The 1998 World Cup winning captain cleaned up the team with his decisions as he left out some of the players that he felt were divisive for the team spirit. One of the players he left out was Samir Nasri – the player was in good form leading to the 2014 World Cup, but Deschamps’ no-nonsense meant there was no place for the diminutive Manchester City midfielder. And the manager was proved right as his players seemed to be a united bunch in Brazil and topped their group. They ultimately reached the quarter-final of the tournament, but failed to get past the eventual champions Germany, losing 1-0.

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Heading into the 2018 World Cup in Russia, all signs indicate that the French wouldn’t follow their familiar pattern of doing good in one World Cup and miserably the next.

For one, they have an authoritative manager at the helm, who also commands tremendous respect of his players for his heroics in 1998. The players also know that the manager won’t shy away from dropping divisive elements from the team if he finds any.

On top of it, the French national team have been blessed with some fantastic young players who are only going to get better in three years time. In goal they have Hugo Lloris – also the national team captain. The defence is likely to be led by the exceptional talents of Raphael Varane and Kurt Zouma. They also have vastly experienced Laurent Kosicelny to rein in the young blood. Layvin Kurzawam, Benoit Tremoulinas, Christoph Jallet and Lucas Digne are exceptionally talented full-backs.

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Morgan Schneiderlin, Dimitri Payet, Blaise Matuidi and Geoffrey Kondogbia will be among the first choice for the French in midfield and also have upcoming talents like Adrien Rabiot and Corentin Tolisso to call upon. But most significantly they will have a diamond in Paul Pogba.

Karim Benzema will be the leader of attack and Antoine Griezmann is developing extremely well under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid. With Alexandre Lacazette, Nabil Fekir and Anthony Martial in his squad, Deschamps will have an array of exceptionally gifted forwards to choose from.

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France can be expected to do great things in Russia in three years time.