If there's one team which has everyone talking ahead of the World Cup finals, it's France, who have enjoyed some very impressive warm-up results.
Les Bleus have some very good players, of that there can be no doubt, but they don’t have many exceptional stars. You look at their squad and think they are a quarter-final team; France are probably at the same level as England.
The loss of Franck Ribery was of course a big blow and will primarily be felt in the later stages, should France make it that far. The big matches are decided by the big players, and Ribery was key to how Deschamps laid out his team with his impressive work ethic.
The key thing at the World Cup is to have staying power. How sharp are you after you’ve played five games? It’s only the absolute best who have enough quality for six or seven games and I don’t think France have that.
I question whether a very talented young team has the concentration and discipline to win the World Cup, and I wouldn’t be getting carried away by an 8-0 win over Jamaica, as impressive as their friendly victory was on Sunday night.
Antoine Griezmann looks like he will come in for Ribery off the back of a tremendous season with Real Sociedad and he is in good form, which is vital. He weighs in with goals, which is nice from your wide men, but he is not at Ribery’s level and never will be.
With Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland in their group, and then, if they win it, possibly Iran, Nigeria or Bosnia and Herzegovina to come in the last-16, it looks as though France possibly have a clear run at the quarter-finals, and anything less would be a disappointment given their favourable draw. And they certainly have the talent to go further - you wouldn't rule that out.
But if they don’t get through the group, I’m sure something will happen. There will be a big story from behind the scenes.
Four years ago, France went on strike before being knocked out in the first round in South Africa. Controversy always seems to follow France around – since Knysna alone we’ve had Laurent Blanc talking about racial quotas and now the storm over Samir Nasri’s exclusion – but Didier Deschamps has them on an even keel going into the tournament and that is important.
Deschamps has done an excellent job in pulling the squad in the same direction and he needs that to continue with each player accepting their role, even if that means starting on the bench. That was the reason Samir Nasri was excluded of course.
Some of the personalities can be problematic and historically they have had a tendency to be divided into cliques, but the best thing to engender team spirit is to win – when you are winning no one can complain.
The World Cup play-off against Ukraine shows you what France are capable of: they were awful in the first leg in Ukraine, totally unmotivated, and then a couple of days later they found the character and desire to make it through.
It seems to be a happy camp at the moment, but as we know with the French, anything is possible.
They won the World Cup in 1998, were knocked out of the group stage in 2002, reached the final in 2006 and then lost in the group stages again last time. So maybe they are due a good one.
- Jan Molby
- Sports & Recreation
- Franck Ribery