From 2018 to 2022, tracing France's national team evolution since winning FIFA World Cup in Russia
France head into Qatar with a ton of expectation and the weight of World Cup history to contend with in the desert country. The Les Bleus squad comprises an impeccable and fearsome bunch of players, most of whom reigned supreme in Russia four years ago. But they also have the ignominy of being among the first teams to suffer from the affliction many call the 'Curse of the defending champions'. Not since Brazil lost 1998 final to France has the defending champion come close to retaining the title. Of the next five World Cup defending champions, four failed to reach the knockout stage and three finished last in their group.
France boasted Arsenal striker Thierry Henry, Juventus marksman David Trezeguet and rising talent Djibril Cisse in a glittering attack blending speed, skill and power. But the French flopped and, with an injured Zinedine Zidane unable to perform properly in midfield, limped out of the group stage without winning a game.
It was one of the greatest shocks in World Cup history, and the warning signs are chillingly similar this time.
Defending champion France boasts arguably the best attack in the world with Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema alongside 2018 World Cup star Kylian Mbappe, with either Antoine Griezmann or Olivier Giroud to support them. It is a perfect blend of speed, skill and power.
But, like in 2002, France also has problems in midfield, with World Cup winners Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante both out injured, depriving coach Didier Deschamps of his engine room. Central defender Raphael Varane, another mainstay from four years ago, is trying to recover from a hamstring injury.
In the absence of arguably two of the best midfielders in football, Deschamps has taken an intelligent approach to the midfield of his team. The only drawback is that these players do not have experience at a major FIFA tournament like Pogba and Kante. The only experience in that midfield contingent goes to Adrien Rabiot and Jordan Veretout. But the fact that both Aurelin Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga play in the middle for Real Madrid is sure to help with the coordination.
In 2018, Mbappe was an unknown prodigy who was just breaking into world football, It was at the tournament, and his time with Monaco before that, which established him as one of the best attackers in football. However, Mbappe did not succeed when tasked with leading the attack at the Euros. This time around, he will have the backing of Balon D'or winner Karim Benzema, who has been exceptional for France, so much so that the head coach had to bring him back to the fold for the 2020 Euros, having been frozen out of the team before that.
France have the experience of Raphael Varane, Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard from the last World Cup to rely on. But in the last four years, the likes of Ibrahima Konate, Jules Kounde, William Saliba and Dayot Upamecano have proven their abilities in Europe. With Presnel Kimpembe out of the tournament, it will be interesting to see which centre-back Deschamps goes with because the rest of them have little to no amount of game time in big tournaments.
France 2022 FIFA World Cup squad:
Goalkeepers: Alphonse Areola, Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda
Defenders: Lucas Hernandez, Theo Hernandez, Alex Disasi, Ibrahima Konate, Jules Kounde, Benjamin Pavard, William Saliba, Dayot Upamecano, Raphael Varane
Midfielders: Eduardo Camavinga, Youssouf Fofana, Matteo Guendouzi, Adrien Rabiot, Aurelien Tchouameni, Jordan Veretout, Randal Kolo Muani
Forwards: Karim Benzema, Kingsley Coman, Ousmane Dembele, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe