France's national training centre at Clairefontaine is a serene place. Hidden away in the forest of Rambouillet, 50 kilometres to the south-west of Paris, it could hardly be more different to what awaits Les Bleus in Brazil, but it is where Didier Deschamps and his squad are fine-tuning their preparations before crossing the Atlantic.
The World Cup in Brazil is set to be an attack on the senses, and an experience that will help many of the exciting young talents in the France squad come of age. For Deschamps, making an impression on these finals is essential, but there has been no attempt to hide that the main objective is to build towards Euro 2016, which France will host.
Having lifted the World Cup on home soil as captain in 1998, Deschamps would love to lead his team to glory in the European Championship in two years time. And he should remain at the helm for that tournament, even if Les Bleus fail to perform in Brazil.
After needing to beat Ukraine in dramatic circumstances last November just to qualify for the World Cup, expectations at home are not high and a run to the quarter-finals would be seen as a good performance.
To do that, they will surely need to avoid a possible last-16 meeting with Argentina, and a strong start to the group stage will be crucial. When France were drawn in Group E along with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras, the media at home saw it as proof that Deschamps was a lucky charm. But the warning signs from the past are there - France have won just one of their last nine group games at World Cup finals, against Togo in 2006.
Beyond that, Deschamps simply believes his team are good enough to compete with anyone on their day. "There are five or six teams who will go to Brazil with the legitimate objective of being world champions," he said recently. "For us, it is neither realistic nor legitimate to think that. But if we come up against one of these teams, that doesn't mean we can't beat them."
There is enough quality in the squad to back up that statement, from players at the peak of their powers such as Hugo Lloris, Franck Ribéry and Karim Benzema to young stars like Raphaël Varane and Paul Pogba.
The latter two are both just 21 but are already performing at the very highest level with Real Madrid and Juventus respectively. Varane is fresh from winning the Champions League at the weekend, and Benzema, his colleague at club and international level, is insistent that the centre-back "can become one of the best in the world."
Deschamps will hope to build his side around them in the years ahead, while those who are on his standby list for the World Cup, like the Southampton midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin and Montpellier playmaker Rémy Cabella, offer plenty of hope for the future too. In the meantime, this will be the last World Cup for the relative veterans, Ribéry and Patrice Evra.
The latter has been at the centre of more than a few controversies in his international career, not least the disastrous players' strike at their training base during the last World Cup in South Africa. Making sure something similar does not happen in Brazil was one of the reasons why Deschamps felt he had to leave Manchester City's Samir Nasri out of his 23-man squad.
Prior to announcing his squad live on television two weeks ago, Deschamps admitted that "you don't take the 23 best players" to a World Cup. It was a clear hint at the real reasons why Nasri would not feature. He added: "Who you choose is essential. You can't make any mistakes. You have to pick the right players for the system, for competition for places and for squad mentality. My role is to make sure that nobody puts in danger the balance of the squad as a whole."
Right now, the mood in the squad is good. The atmosphere in the lush surroundings of Clairefontaine is positive. Cabella says "everyone is smiling", although Deschamps admits that things could change once France set foot in Brazil, noting that "there is an element of the unknown that nobody can control".
Nevertheless, the coach seems to be clear about his first-choice line-up already, with the possible exception of one of the centre-back berths, and he can only now hope there are no late injury setbacks before France's opening game against Honduras in Porto Alegre on June 15.
- Sports & Recreation
- Didier Deschamps