France’s World Cup campaign didn’t go to plan back in 2010 and Patrice Evra was at the centre of a bitter row but going into this World Cup, things are a little smoother for France. Not much was expected of France in the build-up to the tournament but after impressive performances in the pre-World Cup friendlies, including an 8-0 win over Jamaica, they could be a dark horse of the tournament and you can get great World Cup odds on them doing well in the tournament.
With this in mind, we caught up with Yannick Bloem (@ybthebest) to get his opinion on some interesting issues surrounding the France squad.
How integral is Patrice Evra to this French side, both as an on-field veteran and an off-field leader?
The starting defence should be Lloris, Debuchy, Varane, Sakho, Evra. Evra is comfortably the oldest, most experienced out of the five (Varane, 21, Sakho, 24, Debuchy, 28, Lloris, 27). In that sense he can definitely bring his experience, having already participated in three major tournaments but, both on and off the field, there have been some issues. On the field, the problems are the same as at Manchester United. Evra brings a lot offensively with some nice crosses but even against Jamaica he left a lot of room in behind. He is getting slower and the gaps are getting bigger. France will hope that he is able to play at his top form and concentration, otherwise some goals could be conceded down that left hand side. Off the field, it’s not much better. Everybody remembers the 2010 disaster in South Africa where France were eliminated in the group stages and the famous ‘bus incident’. Evra was captain at that time. It took a long time but Evra has partly been forgiven by the French public, who are willing to put the whole story behind them but Deschamps has reminded everyone (not just once) that Evra will never be captain again as long as Deschamps is the manager. 2010 is still in everyone’s head and Evra will have to perform well on and off the pitch but some positive stories have also filtered through. In their decisive play-off match against Ukraine, the French players told the story of Patrice Evra making the half time speech to motivate the team. Deschamps didn’t talk, Evra did. He motivated everybody, like a real leader. Despite all the issues he is still a leader and that could definitely help this French team, who don’t really have a defined leader.
How heavily do you think Antoine Griezmann will feature this summer?
Griezmann has a superb season at Real Sociedad. All year long though, there was no hope he’d play. Franck Ribéry was France’s main man and they play more or less the same spot, left side. Griezmann was called up though and Ribéry got injured. 60% of L’Equipe’s readers even said that Ribéry’s forfeit wasn’t that dramatic and Griezmann was probably the main reason for that but the real question was who would take Ribéry’s spot? At first, it was between Griezmann and Remy but in the last friendly against Jamaica, for one of the first times, Deschamps lined up with both Giroud and Benzema and it worked pretty well. Now it seems Giroud will be a starter at the World Cup, which takes the free spot Ribery left. All this is to say that Griezmann probably won’t be a starter but he is one of France’s biggest talents. Everyone, including Deschamps, knows it and he will definitely feature at some point. If some attacking potential is needed then he will be one of the first substitutions. So the question is not if we will see Antoine but how much. France use a 4-3-3, that’s why Ribéry’s absence left a spot for Griezmann, but with both Giroud and Benzema playing, Benzema is put out on the side, taking Ribéry’s spot.
How highly is Paul Pogba rated by Didier Deschamps?
Pogba is very, very highly valued by Deschamps. He was one of the main reasons Deschamps set up a 4-3-3, to build his midfield around Pogba. He is probably France’s most talented player and their future. He is undoubtedly a starter and, if at his top form, there is no doubt Pogba will bring France to another level but Deschamps is not happy with Pogba lately because he has not had a good preparation for the World Cup. He was subbed off prematurely against Norway, criticised after the game, and put on the bench against Jamaica. The reason is simple: Deschamps is not a fan of his multiple runs up the midfield because it leaves the midfield without cover. He goes up, without coming back. The gaps are too big and the midfield is left at risk. He has to play more smartly, run up when he can, and stay when he has to. Deschamps expects more of his pupil, but he has trust in him. He is so critical of Pogba because he knows Pogba can become one of the best. He will be one of France’s main men this summer.
How far can you see France going in this World Cup?
If you had asked me this a couple of months ago, I probably would have said: out at the group stages. Now my opinion has changed a lot. A World Cup is tough to predict; it all depends on that single action, at that moment in a match. Everything can change in a second. But France have a great defence, a strong midfield, and, on form, a very good attack. They can definitely go very far. If Deschamps controls the egos (which he can), France can hope for the best. My honest opinion: a lot will depend on the opening game against Switzerland. The Swiss team is very strong, I could see France drawing, or even losing. In that case, a match-up against Argentina in the next round is very possible and I wouldn’t see France winning that one. So it all depends on the opening game.