Key analysis: France arrive in Qatar under Damocles' sword

Key analysis: France arrive in Qatar under Damocles' sword
Mbappe is currently Ligue 1's top scorer with 12 goals
Mbappe is currently Ligue 1's top scorer with 12 goals
It is a French team full of doubts and uncertainties that will present itself in Al-Messila, its base camp in the suburbs of Doha, to defend the title of world champions.

In the darkness that is Les Bleus' latest results at Euro 2021 and during the last Nations League, the victory in the 2021 Final four of the latter against Spain appears to be a ray of hope. But on that evening, 10 October at the San Siro, the players who made the French dream so much in 2018 were there. In Qatar, however, Paul Pogba (29), crucial in the final victory in Russia, will be absent and the form of players like Benzema (34), Varane (29), Kimpembe (27) or Griezmann (31) raises questions: will they be physically and mentally ready to defend the title of world champion? The first elements of the answer will be on Tuesday, November 22 against Australia.

"The collective comes first". This is a phrase that was repeated many times by Didier Deschamps before Les Bleus lifted their second World Cup in Russia. The question of whether there is a "group" in this 2022 version of the French team will have to be asked. Unable to get past the last 16 at Euro 2021 against Switzerland after Mbappe's missed penalty against Sommer, Les Bleus' latest results are far from comforting and promising. 

Defeated by Denmark in the Nations League, both in the first leg (1-2) and in the return (2-0), France will play again against the Danish Dynamite (26 November), in the second day of group matches. In this context full of questions, Les Bleus will therefore defend their world championship title with this sword of Damocles over their heads. In the hope of not reliving a similar story to the one experienced in 2002 in South Korea, when Dennis Rommedahl and Jon Dahl Tomasson, the Danish strikers, eliminated Roger Lemerre's players. 


One of the main strengths of this French team is, without a doubt, its individuality in the attack. As in the skin of Hugh Glass in The Revenant, played by Leonardo DiCaprio - where his acting earned him his only Oscar for 'best actor' - Benzema is aiming for the ultimate trophy that would ratify his magnificent career, after missing the 2018 World Cup. The 2022 Ballon d'Or winner, as the vigilante of a depleted team, will headline with Kylian Mbappe (23). The Bondy native will have the opportunity to go for a second world title, after having been decisive in 2018, notably against Argentina in the last 16. The two men will be the reference points for Les Bleus in attack.

Around them will be present a key player of Didier Deschamps: Olivier Giroud (36). The second highest scorer in the history of Les Bleus (49 goals), who was not selected for a while after Euro 2021, is back in the squad and will be an essential asset for this team. Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele (25) and Kingsley Coman (26) complete a talented attack. It is the major strength of the reigning world champions, on which many hopes rest. 


The first doubt that one can have, concerning this side, is to know if there is this idea of "collective", central in the conquest of the World Cup in Russia. Two major absences are worth highlighting: Pogba and N'Golo Kante (31). The first, with a meniscus injury in his right knee, was the natural leader of the dressing room in 2018. The latter, out for four months with a hamstring injury, was the team's leader on the pitch, through his role as an inexhaustible all-rounder. As well as being at the heart of Les Bleus' tactical game, the two men embodied the strength of the collective set up by Deschamps. 

Having been absent for some time, their presence has been missing from the French team's game, a fact that has affected results in recent months. We all know that the basis of football is in the midfield. It is from there that the greatest teams are built. And it is inevitably a key sector that Deschamps and his staff will have to rebuild. Aurelien Tchouameni (22) might be the first step in edification. It remains to be seen who will accompany him: Youssouf Fofana (23), his former teammate at AS Monaco? Or Adrien Rabiot (27), one of Juventus' best players this season? 

Finally, the last weakness concerns are within the defensive sector and the physical uncertainties of some of its players. France concedes too many goals, notably due to the change of system implemented during and after the Euro, passing to a 3-man defence, and to the large number of injuries suffered in this position. The first name that comes to mind is that of Raphael Varane, the vice-captain of Les Bleus, who, since his arrival at Manchester United, has not been as convincing. The former Real Madrid man will not be in the best of circumstances with a thigh injury sustained at the end of October. It's not just a matter of said player's fitness, it's also a matter of the form of Kimpembe, who has had a string of injuries since August. 

Like Pogba and Kante, the two Les Bleus defenders are important players in Didier Deschamps' collective structure, having played a big part in winning the second star in 2018, both on the pitch and in the dressing room. Their absences would therefore be problematic. Finally, it remains to be seen in what form Benzema will arrive with, having been absent with Real Madrid for several matches due to physical problems.

Ideal XI

Lloris; Lucas Hernandez (Theo Hernandez) - Kimpembe - Varane - Pavard; Tchouameni - Rabiot; Mbappe - Griezmann - Dembele; Benzema. 

In an ideal world and an idyllic competition, Didier Deschamps should, in view of the list of 25 given on Wednesday 9 November, return to a 4-man defence, and he insisted so in a press conference.

"By the structure of the list, it will not be a three-man defence but a four-man defence. It's a long analysis, a lot of discussions. I consider that the thoughts and feelings of certain players feed my reflection. We did some good things in this system (with three defenders) by reversing situations in certain matches, but we were often off balance. To be a force in a major competition like this, you have to be solid defensively. We will have to defend better and defend well. I am convinced that this is better and more appropriate," he said. 

It's a good thing that the French coach is going to start with the same defensive line-up as he did during the 2018 World Cup. To defend ''better'' and ''well'', Deschamps should bring back three of the starters who led France to the World Cup title, if their form is optimal: Varane, Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. Left-footed like his predecessor, Kimpembe should take Samuel Umtiti's place.

As for the midfield, it's becoming obvious that Tchouameni will be the go-to option, most likely accompanied with the most experienced player in this position: Rabiot.

There are no doubts that Griezmann, Mbappe and Benzema will be alongside each other. The only uncertainty would concern the right flank where Dembele, given his form and status at Barça, would be the favourite ahead of Kingsley Coman or Christopher Nkunku. 


Being conditioned by physical uncertainties, Les Bleus will most certainly have to double their efforts in the group stages in order to claim the top spot in the group. Known by the staff and the players, Denmark will be the number one opponent in group D. It is difficult to pick a favourite for this match, as there are so many unknowns about this team. France has a status to be valued since it is the title holder, but be careful not to rest on its laurels.