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France World Cup Team Guide: It's time Paul Pogba stepped up at last for the national team

France World Cup Team Guide: It's time Paul Pogba stepped up at last for the national team

Les Bleus must head to Russia believing they can win it and the United man has to be their leader.

Team Strengths

You just need to look at the list of players left out of France’s World Cup squad by Didier Deschamps to realise how much strength in depth this team has. No Karim Benzema, no Alexandre Lacazette, no Kingsley Coman, no Anthony Martial, no Adrien Rabiot, no Aymeric Laporte, no Wissam Ben Yedder and the list goes on. Deschamps has a wonderful array of talent at his disposal, especially going forward. Not many countries can boast a forward line with Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé, Ousmane Dembélé, Thomas Lemar, Nabil Fekir and Olivier Giroud. France can.

Add Samuel Umtiti, Raphael Varane, Ngolo Kanté and Paul Pogba and you have one of the strongest squads at the World Cup. It is a team well balanced, full of creativity, pace, skills and steel. A lot of players can make big differences by themselves.

In that sense, Kylian Mbappé could well take this World Cup by storm. He is a prodigy with an incredible talent. He is only 19 but is already certainly one of France’s best assets.

After the disappointment of the 2016 Euros and the defeat in the final at home against Portugal (1-0), there is a lot of hunger amongst these French players to redeem themselves and go all the way in Russia.

Finally, most of the players have been playing together for a while now. The Pogba generation (Areola, Umtiti, Varane, Pogba, Thauvin) have been playing together for France since they were 18. Lloris, Rami, Mandanda, Giroud were all there at the 2012 Euros too. There is experience in this squad as well as talent and character.

Team Weaknesses

Didier Deschamps has made mistakes during his tenure as France’s head coach, most notably in the 2016 final. He is too cautious at times, which can hinder the team’s attacking potential. He is also still looking for his best team and best formation. Will France play in a flat 4-4-2 or in a 4-3-3? Will he use Ousmane Dembélé as a super sub or start him? There are still a few question marks over what Deschamps will do and if he will make the right choices.

At full back, there are doubts over Benjamin Mendy’s fitness on the left after he hardly played all season, and over Djibril Sidibé’s poor defending on the right. Still defensively, there is a lack of leadership at centre back in Laurent Koscielny’s absence due to injury. Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane both like to have a big character next to them, such as Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos at their clubs.

Leader/Star Player

Last month, Paul Pogba announced his desire to become France’s leader, to “be the boss of this team” as he put it. It is about time. Pogba needs to step up and deliver. To do well, France need him at his best and leading by example.

Every time France have done well in a big tournament, they had one outstanding leader (Raymon Kopa in 1958, Michel Platini through the 80s, Zinedine Zidane at the end of the 90s and in the beginning of the 00s). It is now Pogba’s turn. Alongside him, he will have key players who will also have to lead. Hugo Lloris will be the captain. He has not been as solid for club and country this season as usual, but he is still a very reliable keeper and captain. Antoine Griezmann, Pogba’s best friend, will have a crucial role as well, to guide this team and score goals.

Eventually though, the star player for France this summer could just be Kylian Mbappé. The French prodigy is only 19 and has played just 18 months of first team football, yet he is such an incredible talent that he is ready to take on the world. He will play with no pressure and with a lot of confidence.

Mbappe to be top goalscorer at the tournament - 34.00

The Manager

This is Didier Deschamps’ second World Cup as France’s head coach after 2014 and a quarter-final defeat against Germany (1-0) in Brazil. Since then, he lost the 2016 final against Portugal in a match where he disappointed tactically. His very conservative style of coaching could be an issue. He represents one of France’s weaknesses at times by making the wrong choices tactically and picking the wrong players. Between 2016 and 2018, the team has not improved enough despite the emergence of very talented young players (Dembélé, Mbappé, Mendy, Lemar, Tolisso). He is not yet getting the best out of his squad.

How Far Can They Go?

Reaching the semi-final is the objective set by Noel Le Graet, the president of the French federation and by Didier Deschamps. Is it a lack of ambition not to aim for the trophy? Maybe. Emmanuel Macron, the French president, seems to think so at least. On Tuesday when he had lunch with the team, he said that “a World Cup is successful when it is won”! However, if Les Bleus reach the semi-finals then anything is possible.

This is a team with experience, ready to compete with the top nations. The last four is the minimum required for such a talented squad. Nevertheless, they can certainly go all the way, twenty years after 1998 and France’s only World Cup triumph. The French have a date with their destiny. 

France to win the World Cup - 7.50





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Julien Laurens
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