Today we profile France, the 21st team on our list of the 32 teams which qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The list is provided in reverse alphabetical order.
Les Bleus are participating in their 15th World Cup, having attended the first in 1930 in Uruguay, which took place via the initiative of Frenchman Jules Rimet after whom the first World Cup trophy was named. France have departed the cup at the Group stage six times, at the Round of 16 once, at the Quarterfinals stage twice, in fourth place once, in third place twice, were runners up in 2006, and they won the cup in 1998 at home and in 2018 in Russia. Possessors of one of the greatest back-to-back generations of world-class soccer players, and in Kilyan Mbappe perhaps the upcoming best player in the world, France have all the weapons to be one of the top favorites to win the cup again.
Placed in Group D with Denmark, Australia, and Tunisia, the French believe they will progress as the top team despite the presence of a Danish team that has beaten France the last two times they have met. Either as first or second, given the weak opposition, France will progress. French home kits are blue shirts, white shorts, and red socks, and their away kits are white shirts, blue shorts, and white socks.
France is a country in Western Europe with overseas territories in the Americas, and in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Its European size is 213,000 square miles, and its climate is temperate (cooler in the mountain regions and warmer in the Mediterranean and Atlantic seaboards) wherein 68M people live and they are 92% French ethnically, speak French, are 51% Christian, have a GDP of $3.7T (10th in the world) and an HDI score of 0.903 (very high). The earliest traces of human life in France have been traced to about 1.8M years ago and in 600 BC Ionian Greeks settled in what is today Marseille, making it the country’s oldest established city. From 843 AD with the Kingdom of the West Franks, through the First Republic in 1792, to the current constitution in 1958 France, a major player on the world stage, became a unitary semi-presidential republic.
A major, global economic player in agriculture, science and technology, military armament production, and trade, 70% of its electricity is generated by nuclear power plants, and France is the world’s number one tourist destination. France’s distinct culture has had a worldwide impact from gastronomic contributions to music and art and from architecture to philosophy and the sciences. France has given us Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, George-Louis Leclerc Buffon, Antoine Lavoisier, Denis Diderot, Louis Pasteur, La Marseillaise, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Aguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gaugin Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Versailles, Champs Elysee, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eifel Tower, the USA’s Statue of Liberty, Francois Rabelais, The Song of Roland, August Rodin, Michel de Montaigne, Moliere, Charles Perrault, Victor Hugo, Jean-Paul Sartre, Alexander Dumas, Jules Verne, Honore de Balzac, Stendhal, Marcel Proust, Albert Camus, Antoine de Saint Exupery, Georges Bizet, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, high fashion, great cinema, Pierre de Coubertin, the Michelin Guide, and countless others.
Squad (which may change before the cup given injuries, form, and coaching choices—teams mentioned are subject to change given transfers): Goalkeepers— GK: Hugo Lloris, (Tottenham), Alphonse Areola, (West Ham), and Mike Maignan (AC Milan); Defenders—Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), Raphael Varane (Manchester United), Theo Hernandez (AC Milan), Benoit Badiashile (Monaco). Ferland Mendy (Real Madrid), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich), Jules Kounde (Barcelona), William Saliba (Arsenal), and Jonathan Clauss (Marseille): Midfielders—Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid), Youssouf Fofana (Monaco), Matteo Guendouzi (Marseille), Aurelien Tchouameni (Real Madrid), and Adrien Rabiot (Juventus); Strikers—Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona), Olivier Giroud (AC Milan), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid) Randal Kolo Muani (Eintracht Frankfurt), Kylian Mbappe (PSG), and Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig).
Path to Qatar
France qualified directly to the World Cup as one of UEFA’s 13 automatic slots when they won the very weak qualifying Group D, comprised of Ukraine, Finland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kazakhstan. France obtained 18 points and a +15-goal differential topping their group with six more points than second-placed Ukraine.
Didier Deschamps, the French coach, has employed a 3-4-1-2 system of late but may have to change it due to the likelihood that Paul Pogba will not recover from surgery in time to play his pivotal midfield role. Midfielder N’Golo Kante seems to have recovered and may have time to return to his stellar form over the next two months, but defender Presnel Kimpembe is not due back but 3-4 weeks before the cup. Starting keeper Hugo Lloris is also recuperating from injury as are Adrien Rabiot and Karim Benzema (though he is already beginning to train).
With so many injury uncertainties and the turmoil surrounding the French Federation and a number of individual players, Deschamps is hard put to determine a system for the cup, let alone his starting eleven. If things get back to normal, and assuming only Pogba is absent, then rising midfield stars Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga could take up the slack and with Antoine Griezmann, Benzema, and Mbappe up front, the French may not need to change much—the question is will they have jelled and rounded into top-notch form come mid-November?
The French team has enough world-class talent to field two full, fantastic starting line-ups. Aside from the key players already mentioned above, coach Deschamps has defenders Benjamin Pavard, Lucas and Theo Hernandez, and Raphael Varane, and strikers Olivier Giroud, Kingsley Coman, Wissam Ben Yedder, and Anthony Martial available—another entire starting line-up of stars.
Group and Tourney Prospects
One of two things will occur with France in 2022, they will get their injured stars back into the fold and in form, overcome their camp’s controversies, and recover their mojo over the next two months or they will have a very short-lived tourney.
Because they only have Denmark to contend with, progressing from their group to the Round of 16 is a foregone conclusion regardless of their mojo level. Furthermore, if things go to form, they would likely meet Poland or Mexico next, either of which would be a mismatch in Les Bleus’ favor. But in the quarterfinals, they would have their first true test and if that mojo has not fully returned France will exit the cup, then. If their mojo is back, it will only be in the semifinals that they will be tested.
The only outside permutation France could perpetrate to disturb the likely run of the tourney is if they come in second in their group and ended up on the same side of the bracket with Brazil, Argentina, and Germany—then the cup’s carefully planned symmetry, the balance which attempts to bring about two equally strong and previously tested contenders to the final, will be blasted, leaving the less strong contenders, Belgium, England, and Portugal, a much easier ride to the finals and Spain a chance to pull off a steal and progress instead of one of the mentioned trio.
Photo: Paul Pogba, Shutterstock ID 1061448971, by Vlad1988