France (Les Bleus)
Champions: 2 (1998, 2018)
Runners Up: 1 (2006)
Third Place: 2 (1958, 1986)
Fourth Place: 1 (1982)
Quarter Finalists: 2 (1938, 2014)
Round of 16: 1 (1934)
Group Stage: 6 (1930, 1954, 1966, 1978, 2002, 2010)
Current FIFA Ranking: 4
Group D Schedule
Game 1 – Tuesday 22nd November 2022
22:00 Qatar Time/19:00 GMT
Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Game 2 – Saturday 26th November 2022
19:00 Qatar Time/16:00 GMT
Stadium 974, Doha
Game 3 – Wednesday 30th November 2022
22:00 Qatar Time/19:00 GMT
One of the best international teams of all time, France have won 2 World Cups, including one on home soil in 1998 and one in 2018. They have also won 2 European Championships (1984, 2000), an Olympic Gold Medal (1984), 2 Confederations Cups (2001, 2003) and the 2021 Nations League.
Long considered a giant of the international game, France have a rich history and have generated many excellent players, often playing with Latin style and panache. France’s first success as a national team goes back more than a century before the French Football Federation was even formed. At the 1900 Summer Olympics, France won the silver medal, thanks to a team formed by a now-defunct sports union. France then played their first official match on 1 May 1904, a 3-3 draw with Belgium. In peculiar circumstances, France sent two teams to the 1908 Olympics, France A and France B. Only France A counted for official purposes and were eliminated in the semi-finals. Due to a dispute between the sports union and the French Interfederal Committee (CFI), the latter of which would become the French Football Federation in 1919, France did not send a team to the 1912 Olympics. Still, they played in the following three editions in 1920, 1924 and 1928, their best placing being a semi-final in the former in Belgium.
It is clear that France were one of the most influential countries in international football’s infancy. Indeed, under a Frenchman’s presidency, Jules Rimet (the third president of FIFA), the inaugural World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930. Making the journey by ship from Europe to South America, France were eliminated in the group stage. However, attacker Lucien Laurent has the distinction of scoring the first goal in World Cup history against Mexico in a 4-1 victory. In 1934 in Italy, France went out at the first hurdle – a 3-2 loss to talented Austria after extra time, with legendary and extremely prolific goalscorer Josef Bican scoring the winner. They had performed well, though, and the team were cheered by over 4,000 supporters upon returning to Paris.
Hosts in 1938 and the First Golden Era
France had been chosen as host for the 1938 edition in 1936, angering South American nations due to the decision to host two consecutive European editions. France defeated Belgium 3-1 but then lost by the same scoreline to eventual champions Italy, who retained their trophy. Still, a quarter-final was their best performance in the first three World Cups. Then World War II broke out, and the following two editions were suspended. Following a quarter-final placement in the 1948 Olympics, France failed to qualify for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. They were offered an entry by FIFA and initially accepted but later declined, presumably due to not feeling they had earned a place. They did qualify for Switzerland in 1954 but could not proceed past the group stage.
However, something was brewing. The introduction of players such as Jean Vincent, Roger Marche, Robert Jonquet, and the irrepressible forwards Just Fontaine and Raymond Kopa was imminent. Kopa won three European Cups with Real Madrid and was probably the best French player before Michel Platini’s arrival. Indeed, all of these players had played for Stade de Reims, who were runners-up to Real Madrid in the inaugural European Cup in 1956 and again in 1959. Reims’ influence culminated in the first golden generation of French players, which qualified for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.
France first blew Paraguay away in a 7-3 victory, including a hat-trick from Fontaine. A disappointing loss to Yugoslavia followed, but Fontaine scored two again. They then defeated Scotland 2-1 to seal their place in the knockout stage, where they decimated Northern Ireland 4-0, Fontaine again scoring twice. A 5-2 defeat to high-flying eventual champions Brazil followed in the semi-final, not helped by an injury to Jonquet. Then Fontaine scored four further goals in the third-place playoff. Third place was highly respectable, and it had been an extremely successful tournament for France. Indeed, it was their best World Cup yet. Fontaine finished the tournament as top scorer with 13 goals, a record which still stands today, and Kopa was named in the all-star team. Reims’ part in the French performance in 1958 cannot be understated.
Period of Decline
France followed the 1958 tournament by obtaining a third-place finish in the inaugural European Nations’ Cup (now the European Championship) in 1960 on home soil. It seemed they were a football power. However, within a few years of their 1958 exploits, much of the team, including Fontaine, Jonquet, Marche and Vincent, retired from international duty. Kopa remained, but he too retired following an unsuccessful qualification campaign for Chile in 1962.
The following fifteen years were marked by decline and are considered a low point in French football. Indeed, in this period, the only major tournament the country qualified for was England 1966 – though they did reach two Olympic quarter-finals in 1968 and 1976. There were five successive failures to qualify for the European Championship. Even in their solitary tournament participation, they had struggled, finishing bottom of their group with one point from a possible six. Many wondered if France would ever return to the force they were in 1958.
The Platini Era Part 1: ’76 to ’82
In 1976, coach Michel Hidalgo took over, and young playmaker Michel Platini made his debut. The team qualified for 1978 in Argentina, and Platini was joined by defender Maxime Bossis and forward Dominique Rocheteau. They were drawn into a tricky group with Italy and Hungary but were disappointed at being eliminated at the first hurdle. The slim failure to qualify for Euro 1980 ensued, and it seemed that Platini’s era was being wasted. However, in 1980, midfielder Jean Tigana joined the team, forming a fantastic partnership with Platini and fellow midfield player Alain Giresse. They qualified for Spain in 1982 but were performing poorly away from home. At the tournament, though, they took three points from six in the initial group stage, then quickly negotiated the second group stage before meeting West Germany in the semi-final. Due to the very entertaining football on show and the constant back and forth (as well as a borderline assault by German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher on French defender Patrick Battiston), this match has become widely known as one of the greatest matches of all time. There was much goalmouth action, with four goals scored in a frantic extra-time period – a Platini penalty and Giresse finish being cancelled out by goals from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Klaus Fischer. France lost the shootout to Germany in sudden death, but they had come extremely close to their first World Cup Final.
The Platini Era Part 2: Euro ’84 Triumph and Mexico’86
1984 arrived and proved to be the most remarkable year yet in French international football. France won the gold medal at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics but, much more significantly, won their first major trophy in becoming European Champions. The tournament showcased the ‘Magic Square’, including Platini, Giresse, Tigana and newcomer Luis Fernandez. In their 4-42 system, Fernandez and Tigana played as deep-lying playmakers and defensive cover in the holding roles. In contrast, Giresse played out wide, and Platini was just behind the striker in a number 10 role. This setup proved highly fruitful for France, as they topped their group at the tournament, with Platini scoring seven goals, including two hat-tricks. He followed this up with a goal in a victory over Portugal in the semi-final. He then scored the opener in a 2-0 defeat of Spain in the final. His nine-goal escapade at this tournament is a record for a single European Championship.
France were hence favourites for Mexico 1986 under new coach Henri Michel, but could only finish second in their group. With Platini and Giresse injured and playing through pain-killing injections, the team defeated Italy 2-0 and Brazil 4-3 on penalties. An ineffective performance and loss to West Germany (again) followed, but France did manage to obtain third. They had recorded their best showing since 1958 but had likely submitted superior performances in 1982 and 1984. The second golden generation had aged, and Platini retired from the national team a year later in 1987. Platini was extraordinarily gifted, blessed with tremendous technique, first touch, passing, shooting, and elegance about his play, making it seem like he had more time than most other players on the pitch. He scored 41 goals in 72 appearances for France in the eleven years he played for his country. He is now widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time.
Sowing the Seeds of Future Success
Some lean years were to follow, but France did ensure their international future by completing the Clairefontaine National Football Institute. The centre has been the source of many talented players since. However, failures to qualify for Euro 1988, Italia ’90 and USA ’94 were sandwiched between a group stage exit in Euro 1992, resulting in a miserable four consecutive tournaments. Aime Jacquet was then named coach and a further golden generation seemed to be on the horizon. Veteran players such as Laurent Blanc, Youri Djorkaeff, Marcel Desailly, Didier Deschamps and Bixente Lizarazu were joined by youngsters Lilian Thuram and the now much-celebrated Zinedine Zidane. Progress took time, but they did make it to the semi-finals of Euro 1996, though they only scored five goals throughout the tournament and none in the knockout stage.
The Zidane Era: World Cup and European Triumph, Then Disastrous Defences
France were now due to host the 1998 World Cup. In preparation, exciting young players such as Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Robert Pires were brought into the national setup. At the tournament, France won all their group games. A nervy 1-0 win over Paraguay following a Blanc strike due to the now defunct Golden Goal rule followed. Then, a tense match against Italy in the quarter-final finished goalless, but France progressed on penalties. In the semi-final in Paris, they faced a talented Croatia team who were impressive in their first-ever World Cup. Davor Suker gave the Croats the lead, but two goals by right-back Thuram (his only two goals for France) ensured passage to the final. In a now famous final where legendary Brazilian Ronaldo had a convulsion on the eve of the match, Zidane scored two fantastic headers in a 3-0 win. France had won their first World Cup, with incredible scenes occurring in Paris. Goalkeeper Fabian Barthez, Desailly, Thuram and Zidane were named as part of the all-star team. Two years later, they became World and European champions under new coach Roger Lemerre. A Trezeguet Golden Goal defeated Italy in the European Championship Final in Rotterdam.
They had possibly been better in 2000 than in 1998 and, as a result, were strong favourites to retain the World Cup in 2002. However, Zidane was injured before the tournament’s commencement. It proved to be a disaster, shockingly losing the opening match to African newcomers Senegal and coming bottom of their group without scoring a goal. There was more disappointment as Greece eliminated them in the last eight of Euro 2004, under Jacques Santini. It was clear that things had turned sour. In 2006 France were not fancied, but Zidane rolled back the years. After a tough start, his performances helped the team defeat Spain, Brazil and Portugal in the knockout stage. The final is now infamous for Zidane’s moment of madness in headbutting Italian Marco Materazzi, which saw France lose the initiative. Zidane was red-carded and ended his illustrious career in disgrace. Zidane shared many of the same qualities as Platini and is also known as one of history’s greatest players. He and Platini are certainly France’s two best players ever.
The Second World Cup Victory and the Upcoming Defence
Disappointing tournaments followed in 2008, 2010 and 2012, but a quarter-final place in Brazil in 2014 displayed signs of recovery. Indeed, France won their second world title in 2018, with a new golden generation emerging. This title was primarily thanks to excellent performances by players such as Raphaël Varane, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, and young forward Kylian Mbappé, with Griezmann, Pogba and Mbappé registering goals in a hard-fought 4-2 defeat of Croatia in the final in Moscow. France had been cautious throughout the tournament but had ultimately emerged victorious due to diligent defensive displays – perhaps in the mould of Deschamps, who had become the coach.
An abundance of talent has been produced in recent decades. However, contemporary French iterations have played what might be considered a more pragmatic or cautious style relative to the talent at their disposal. Many argue that this is the nature of tournament football, where national coaches have less time than club coaches to integrate an expansive style of play. It is true that France were the shock losers in the 2016 European Championship Final as favourites on home soil versus Portugal. However, they won the 2018 World Cup and 2021 Nations League, so they can claim they’ve succeeded more often than not. This year, a disappointing defence of the Nations League left them in third place in their section, narrowly avoiding relegation. These matches doubled up as crucial warm-up matches for the World Cup, and, resultantly, there is uncertainty around how prepared France are in travelling to Qatar. Potential injuries to some key players in no small part exacerbate this. However, as one of world football’s traditional powerhouses and possessing many players plying their trade in Europe’s best leagues, France are correctly considered one of the favourites before the tournament begins. It will be interesting to see if they can successfully become the first nation to defend their crown since Brazil in 1962.
Road to Qualification
Group Position: 1st
Record: Played:8 W5 D3 L0 F18 A3 GD:+15 Points:18
Date Qualified: 13th November 2021
There were no real issues for the French in qualification. Drawn into a group with Ukraine, Finland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kazakhstan, they started relatively slowly, accruing nine of the first 15 possible points. A 2-0 win in Lyon against Finland in their sixth game eased concerns for the French before they bowed out to participate in their ultimately victorious Nations League Finals campaign. When they returned for the final two matchdays last November, draw specialists Ukraine had 9 points. With only one game remaining and three points behind, it required a minor miracle for Ukraine to finish first ahead of France. Les Bleus confirmed qualification with an 8-0 drubbing of Kazakhstan in Paris, then put the gloss on proceedings with a 2-0 win in Finland in the final game three days later. The group had been relatively tight at times but had never really been in much doubt, and France finished 6 points clear of the Ukrainians. Griezmann (6), Mbappé (5) and Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema (3) scored 14 of the side’s 18 goals.
Meet the Coach: Didier Deschamps (age 53)
Deschamps was well-respected and a hugely combative defensive midfielder. His achievements as a player included winning Ligue 1 twice with Marseille in 1990 and 1992 and Serie A three times with the immensely talented nineties Juventus side. He also won the Champions League twice – with Marseille in 1993, when he became the youngest captain to win the top-tier European trophy at only 24 – and with Juventus in 1996. At the international level, he captained France to victory at Euro 2000. His crowning glory as a player, though, came in being skipper for France when they won the World Cup on home soil in 1998. He won a highly impressive 103 international caps between 1989 and 2000 and was an integral player for most of that timespan.
Deschamps began his managerial career when he was appointed coach of Monaco in 2001. He impressed as a young coach, winning the now-defunct Coupe de La Ligue in 2003 (unofficially the French League Cup). Even more significantly, Deschamps shocked Europe by leading Monaco to the UEFA Champions League Final in 2004, where they lost 3-0 to Porto. From there, he joined his old club Juventus as the coach, where they won the 2006-2007 Serie B after being relegated from Serie A in disgrace due to Calciopoli. In 2009 Deschamps joined another club he had played at, Marseille, and won three consecutive Coupe de la Ligue trophies from 2010 to 2012. He also won the Trophee des Champions (French Super Cup) in 2010 and 2011. The highlight of his managerial tenure at Marseille arrived in his first season of 2009-2010 when the club won Ligue 1, mirroring what he had done there as a player.
Deschamps was appointed France manager in July 2012 following the departure of Laurent Blanc after the Euros. During his decade-long reign, he has enjoyed success, as outlined earlier. As mentioned above, a quarter-final placing in the 2014 World Cup was followed by runners-up in the 2016 Euros. Then, in 2018, Deschamps joined a very exclusive club by becoming only the third man to win the World Cup as both player and coach. The other two men in this club are Brazil’s Mario Zagallo (player in 1958 and 1962, coach in 1970) and West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer (player in 1974, coach in 1990). The 4-2 victory over Croatia in Moscow was viewed as redemption for Deschamps and this generation of French players after losing to Portugal two years earlier. However, the capitulation from 3-1 ahead to 3-3 and eventual defeat on penalties against Switzerland at Euro 2020 was part of an incredible Monday where Croatia almost pulled off a similar football miracle against Spain. Deschamps will be wary of such complacency in Qatar.
Possible Starting XI and Style of Play
Due to the many options at their disposal, France can play in numerous styles and formations. Indeed, in their final match of the 2022-2023 Nations League season (a 2-0 loss in Denmark), Deschamps employed a 3-4-1-2 formation with Theo Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard providing the width from fullback. However, he is likely to line up with a back 4 for the first match in Qatar. Injuries to N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba have ruled them out. As a result, the supremely talented young Real Madrid midfielders Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga are prepared to step up. However, Adrien Rabiot could play in midfield to provide more experience. Camavinga can add more zest in midfielder by replacing Rabiot. There is also doubt around central defensive lynchpin Raphael Varane, who was such a rock in 2018, and fellow defensive stalwart Lucas Hernandez. However, there are capable understudies, such as William Saliba, Jules Kounde, Ibrahima Konate, and Dayot Upamecano. Kounde can also double up at right-back.
As stated, France are likely to play more conservatively than their talent would suggest. They will be strong in defence while looking to Antoine Griezmann to be the link between midfield and attack. Flying wingers Ousmane Dembele or Kingsley Coman are options on the right, though may be sacrificed for a defender in tougher matches. In 2018, Olivier Giroud played a very unselfish role as the target man. He will likely play again as Karim Benzema has been ruled out. Unfortunately, talented attacking midfielder Christopher Nkunku has also been ruled out of the tournament. He would probably have deputised for Griezmann.
Giroud, Griezmann, and the prodigious Kylian Mbappe will be tasked with scoring the goals Deschamps hopes will fire France to consecutive world titles.
Goalkeepers: Alphonse Areola, Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda.
Defenders: Axel Disasi, Lucas Hernandez, Theo Hernandez, 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.
Forwards: Karim Benzema, Kingsley Coman, Ousmane Dembele, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Marcus Thuram, Randal Kolo Muani.
Date and Place of Birth: (20.12.1998, Paris)
Current Club: Paris Saint-Germain
The youthful sensation rated as the best young player in the world alongside Norway’s Erling Haaland (who will be absent at this tournament), Mbappé has already proved his worth as a youngster in the 2018 edition. He became the first teenager to score in a World Cup Final since the great Pele in 1958. He travels to Qatar in excellent form with sixteen goals in sixteen appearances for PSG this season. His pace, dribbling and finishing are all of the highest order, and he is expected to be one of the best performers at the tournament. Every neutral wants to see Mbappé dazzle and entertain this winter.
Date and Place of Birth: (21.03.1991, Macon)
Current Club: Atletico Madrid, on loan from Barcelona
Griezmann has struggled at club level in recent years with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. However, there has been a little bit of improvement in his return to Atletico. He was the Golden Boot winner at Euro 2016 and the scorer of some crucial goals in the 2018 tournament, including the goal to make it 2-1 to France (a penalty) in the final. Therefore, he knows how to perform at major tournaments. As one of Deschamps’s leaders and trusted lieutenants, he will be expected to knit play and provide inspiration in Qatar. He will use every ounce of his impressive passing, pressing, finishing, and ability to carry the ball to help France be successful.
Date and Place of Birth: (25.04.1993, Lille)
Current Club: Manchester United
The 29-year-old multiple-time UEFA Champions League winner with Real Madrid should theoretically be at the peak of his powers, but he endured a difficult first season at Manchester United. However, he has started the second season well. Hampered by injuries, he remains a talented defender, still quick and elegant and with good reading of the game. Even if his powers may be fading, his composure and experience will be vital for Deschamps as he will marshal the younger players in the French defence. However, there are doubts he will be fit in time, as he was recently injured for United in a match against Chelsea.