Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. First up in Group C is France.
For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and dig in to all 32 team previews, eight group previews, power rankings, features and so much more.
Our writers say: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: France is stacked. But for Les Bleus, it never really comes down to the talent of their players. When they’re on the same page, they win World Cups. When they’re not, it gets ugly. And, well, they’ve only won one World Cup. — Leander Schaerlaeckens
(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)
World Cup appearance: 15th
Best World Cup finish: Champion (1998)
2014 finish: Quarterfinal
Qualifying: Topped UEFA Group A ahead of Sweden, Netherlands
Schedule: Australia (Saturday, June 16, 6 a.m., FS1), Peru (Thursday, June 21, 8 a.m., FS1), Denmark (Tuesday, June 26, 10 a.m., Fox/FS1)
Manager: Didier Deschamps
Captain: Hugo Lloris (G)
Top players: N’Golo Kante (M), Antoine Griezmann (F), Paul Pogba (M), Kylian Mbappe (F)
Full 23-man squad
Why they’ll win games: Because they have more individual attacking talent than anybody else at the tournament, and because World Cups often become less about systems and more about moments. About individual battles. About game-breaking players. France might not have a coherent approach, but it will have more of those players than any opponent.
Why they’ll lose games: There are questions in defense. There are also questions about how some six-man combination of Kante, Pogba, Griezmann, Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, Thomas Lemar, Ousmane Dembele, Nabil Fekir, Florian Thauvin and Corentin Tolisso fits into the same lineup. France has had oodles of talent at previous major tournaments, too, and has shown flashes of unstoppability, but has been woefully inconsistent, because there are inevitably square pegs in round holes.
How they’ll play: We’re not quite sure! Deschamps, rather than make a tough decision and stick with it at some point over the past year, is still tinkering. Still experimenting. In one March friendly, he left Pogba out of the 11, and played a 4-2-2-2 with Giroud partnering Griezmann and Mbappe as a true winger on the right. Lemar was wide left, but regularly dropped into midfield to get on the ball. Kante and Matuidi were behind them. That unit was high-octane but insecure.
In a second March friendly, Deschamps went to a 4-3-3, which suits Pogba, but less so Griezmann. Griezmann, Mbappe and Giroud don’t really fit into a front three. But Pogba doesn’t fit into a midfield two. So will Deschamps play one out of position to get both into his 11? And will it work?
The answer to the first question appears to be yes. Or he’ll play them all in position, but in a less than ideal shape.
Projected lineup (4-3-3): Hugo Lloris; Djibril Sidibe, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Benjamin Mendy; N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba; Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann.
After an impotent performance against a young U.S. team in Lyon with the above lineup – and after a head injury to Giroud – there are two possible changes: Dembele for Giroud and Tolisso for Matuidi.
With Giroud, Griezmann and Mbappe up top, it could be a traditional 4-3-3; or Griezmann could be in a free role behind the other two. If it’s Dembele in for Giroud, it would be a 4-3-3 with Griezmann through the middle and the other two wide.
What makes them unique: Les Bleus are one of the most diverse national teams in the world. They’re a “black, white and Arab” melting pot that is embraced when the team is playing well, but infamously blamed for struggles when it is not. And over the past two-plus decades, their successes and failures have become interwoven with French political campaigns, social tensions and immigration policy.
Why to root for them: When they’re rolling, they play with unparalleled joy. The joy comes through in training videos and goal celebrations and everywhere in between. From Mbappe to Griezmann to Pogba, they’re absolutely delightful to watch.
Why to root against them: They’ll probably flatter to deceive, then crash out with a thoroughly underwhelming performance in the quarters or semis.
If you’re going to watch one game … Peru will offer the most quality. It’s tough to resist the prospect of a rampant four- or five-goal victory over Australia in the opener, but that 6 a.m. ET kickoff time … woof.
Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan
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More World Cup coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• 2018 World Cup preview hub
• Ranking the top 100 players at the World Cup
• FC Yahoo Mixer: The Ronaldo vs. Messi debate
• A tactical guide to the 2018 World Cup
• How Vladimir Putin can use the World Cup to his benefit