December 5, 2022

France firm favourites to start off with win against Australia, despite injuries



Issued on: 22/11/2022 – 08:56

France manager Didier Deschamps looks on as his players stretch during a training session at the Jassim-bin-Hamad Stadium in Doha on November 20, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament. © Franck Fife, AFP France are overwhelming favourites in their opening clash against relative minnows Australia, especially given the presence of the mighty Kylian Mbappé. But Les Bleus fans can be forgiven a few jitters – as a range of injuries afflicts the squad and the curse of World Cup title-holders looms large.

2022 FIFA World Cup © Studio graphique France go into Qatar 2022 off the back of their barnstorming victory at Russia 2018 – when sluggish group stage performances gave way to a remarkable run of form in the knockouts that carried them all the way to the trophy.

The talismanic wunderkind of 2018, Kylian Mbappé, is now the linchpin of the French squad. Les Bleus will be all the more reliant on Mbappé, as a thigh injury ruled out this year’s Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema.

Ever since France manager Didier Deschamps recalled him to the squad for Euro 2021, the Benzema goalscoring machine has been crucial to his plans to overcome the world’s best teams. Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann and AC Milan striker Olivier Giroud will be expected to fill the gap.

Griezmann’s delicate, deft tactics have transformed many a game during his long career. Giroud has long been one of the most underrated strikers in the world – and is just two goals behind Thierry Henry’s 51-goal record for France; a record he will be motivated to smash in Qatar. But both are past their primes. Giroud is 36. And while Griezmann is five years younger, it says a lot that Atletico mainly bring him on as a sub.

Injuries have marred the French squad elsewhere on the pitch. Chelsea defensive midfielder N’Golo Kanté – arguably Les Bleus’ second-best player at the last World Cup, behind Mbappé – was ruled out with prolonged surgery due to a hamstring injury. A thigh injury put Kanté’s central midfield partner Paul Pogba out of action – another big blow to France, as the Juventus star’s creativity brought several matches alive during that surge to victory in 2018.

Meanwhile the centrepiece of their 2018 defence, Manchester United’s Raphael Varane, has lost some of his trademark speed at the age of 29, despite his indubitable tactical finesse. And Deschamps raised eyebrows by saying Varane is available for the Australia match, seeing as he has not played for a month amid a muscle injury.

But for all the injuries and ageing, France boast some tremendous strengths. They have two of La Liga’s most exciting talents making their World Cup debuts. With tremendous strength and versatility, 23-year-old Barcelona centre half Jules Koundé has the potential to be one of the great French players of the contemporary game – and his youthful dynamism will make a fine complement to Varane’s seasoned tactical nous. Real Madrid’s 20-year-old central midfielder Eduardo Camavinga is another blossoming talent to look out for in Qatar – combining fine positional acumen with a powerful capacity to read the game when on the offensive.

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