A well-rounded outfit

For eight years no other team has imploded as spectacularly as France. It started with the final of the 2006 World Cup, continued in the EURO 2008, where it crashed out in the group stage, and went down the abyss at the 2010 World Cup — all under manager Raymond Domenech. Troubles persisted even at EURO 2012 with Laurent Blanc in charge.

However, the current French side under Didier Deschamps is certainly not the one to repeat such acts. Blessed with a bunch of immensely talented youngsters, the revival has truly begun for French football and Brazil 2014 presents the first opportunity to show how far it has moved away from the recent inglorious past.

Manager Deschamps has changed his formations quite a bit; he has tried 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, but in the end has settled for 4-3-3, a system experts say maximises the potential of the players he has chosen. With players who can provide stability, technique and athleticism in the middle, pace upfront, flair on the wings — despite the absence of Franck Ribery due to a back injury — and adventurism from the fullback positions, the view is certainly not off the mark.

As many as nine starting places seem sewed up, with only the defensive ones up for grabs. Captain Hugo Lloris will be the number one goalkeeper and left-back Patrice Evra is a certainty. Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny is a sure bet to be one of the two centre-backs. But it is the other centre-back position and the one on the right side of the defence that will see competition.

For the centre, the choice is between the young Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane and the powerful Mamadou Sakho of Liverpool. While the former is gifted with the ball, the latter is physically strong with excellent ball-winning capability in the air. Deschamps is big admirer of the 21-year-old from Madrid but Sakho was the hero against Ukraine in the play-offs when he scored twice to send France to Brazil. The two offer different styles and the pragmatist in Deschamps can be relied upon to choose the better option on the day.

On the right, Bacary Sagna and Mathieu Debuchy will vie for a spot. Like Evra the two are perhaps not the most reliable of defenders, but their overlapping play coupled with the threat from the wings is one of France’s most potent weapons. Debuchy has been a regular starter in the qualifiers but it would be fair to say that Sagna had a better season at Arsenal than Debuchy did at Newcastle. But for Deschamps, club form, though it matters, is not the one that swings decisions, as Samir Nasri was to find out. There can however be no arguments on France’s strength in the middle. In Yohan Cabaye, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi it has three of the world’s finest young midfielders. But Ribery’s absence will certainly be felt. Mathieu Valbuena, an impressive figure for France in the last two years, will most probably man the flanks in the company of Antoine Griezmann, the versatile 23-year-old from Real Sociedad, who in just a handful of appearances has shown what he is capable of. Also, Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin, a star in the making, who has been called up following Ribery’s injury, and Queen’s Park Rangers’ Loic Remy could see some action.

Upfront the swift and powerful Karim Benzema is tipped to be the lone striker with Olivier Giroud backing him up. Giroud would do well to curb his wastefulness if he is to be an effective understudy.

However, the space between the midfield and defence could yet prove a grey area. Both Pogba and Cabaye prefer being closer to the striker than the defence. With the full backs too more than eager to charge forward, Matuidi will be left alone doing the defensive duties.

Yet, overall, France appears a well-rounded outfit — an excellent starting eleven and a set of sharp reserves. But will it be good enough to win a second world title?