France breezed through qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, winning seven of its 10 matches in Group A. Les Bleus, coached by 1998 Cup-winning captain Didier Deschamps, scored 18 goals and conceded just six as a young French side announced its candidature for the coveted trophy in Russia.
Former France international Mikael Silvestre, who has played in the Indian Super League with Chennaiyin FC, is optimistic about the side’s chances of leaving a lasting impression in the Mundial.
France has got off to a great start in Russia. What are your expectations from the team?
I’m right behind the team, like any good fan. The fact that I am a former international doesn’t change anything: I’m a Bleus fan first and foremost. That’s the most important feeling. When I talk to friends, players, coaches and football experts, they all say that we’re among the favourites. I hope we can hold our own and reach the last four.
A young Kylian Mbappe has already proved his credentials with a goal against Peru. France also has another youngster in Ousmane Dembele, who came through the ranks in Rennes when you were the director of football there. How do you rate these two youngsters?
He’s [Dembele] a great player. I’m not surprised to see him at this level. When someone’s got the talent that Dembele has, you can’t help but notice them. He’s had a meteoric rise. He has things very clear in his mind and he doesn’t overcomplicate it, which is a characteristic he shares with Kylian Mbappe. They really learned their trade at club level, and when they stepped up to the national team, it was just another phase for them. It’s a difficult step for some to take, but not for them. They’re ready. They’re amazingly talented, and it doesn’t surprise me at all to see them play so well.
Do you think coach Didier Deschamps might face some problems with his defence as we go forward in this tournament?
The coach hasn’t been able to field his first-choice defence for any length of time, which is always a bit of a worry.
You played as a left-back for France. How do you think the position has developed?
It’s a demanding place to play because of the contribution you have to make in defence and attack. You have to get the balance right, but it’s difficult to find that balance. I think full-backs are becoming more and more important when it comes to creating play. They’re like auxiliary wingers. Teams are increasingly relying on the individual performances of their full-backs.
You played in two World Cups, in 2002 and 2006, and they could hardly have been more different. One was a disaster and the other pretty much a success story...
Yes, though they both left a bitter taste in the mouth for me – 2006 maybe more so than the other one. I played in a make-or-break match against Togo, but losing on penalties was really tough [in the final against Italy]. It was cruel. It’s the biggest cause for regret I had in my career.
How is it possible to have experienced two such different World Cups with largely similar squads?
In 2002, I was a rookie in the side. I think we lacked humility. We did our preparations in South Africa and Chile and we’d already qualified. We didn’t prepare as well as we should have done. What shone through in 2006 was the character of our big-name players. We had to show that 2002 was a slip-up. We had to bounce back and prove that we were better than that group phase elimination. And we did that.
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