France always expect

Memories are short in football. But nowhere are they shorter than in France. After almost missing out on qualification for Brazil, now that “Les Bleus” are there – after overturning a 2-0 first-leg deficit to beat Ukraine in a play-off – the French public is happy to talk up their team’s chances of reaching the Final. Daft as it sounds, though, with France anything is possible.

It’s in France’s footballing DNA to always expect the unexpected. They have always been technically strong, yet their World Cup performances have yo-yoed from the sublime to the ridiculous. You only have to look at the previous two competitions to spot the madness.

In 2006 they made it to the Final only to lose on penalties to Italy in Berlin. And the team’s fine performance on the day was all but forgotten in the aftermath of the Zinedine Zidane head-butt incident.

Four years later they went home early with their tails between their legs after finishing bottom of Group A without a win and scoring only one goal. And the infamous player revolt in Knysna, where the squad refused to train after Nicolas Anelka had been sent home after criticising coach Raymond Domenech, further tarnished France’s reputation.

So which France will turn up in 2014? Who knows? But what can be said is that the squad is packed with outstanding young talent.

Hugo Lloris is a quality goalkeeper, central defender Raphael Varane is mature beyond his years and a born leader, Paul Pogba is an outstanding midfield prospect and, at 26, Karim Benzema is at the peak of his attacking powers. With a spine like that you’ve always got a chance. But, they will sorely miss one of the best players in the world, Franck Ribery.

No team will fancy taking on the French, but do they have enough strength in depth? If another key man gets injured they may get knocked off course. Drawn in what looks like a ridiculously easy group alongside Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras, it will be another national scandal if France fail to progress to the knockout stage.

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