GROUP E
France

THE 60-SECOND OVERVIEW

Some bookies rate France as sixth favourites for the title, ahead of Italy. Back home, though, they say Non.True, this is a young, tough, talented squad: skipper Hugo Lloris is a superb keeper-sweeper, there's a powerhouse of a midfield (Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye) and two outstanding individuals up front: Franck Ribéry, who has a Ballon d'Or-shaped reason to prove his worth to the world, and Karim Benzema, who's scored four in his last five internationals after 17 goalless games.

But it lacks a settled back four: 'DD' has tested 11 defenders in less than two years, and has yet to find a workable combination. Getting out of a modest group shouldn’t be a problem, but getting to the last eight should be deemed a great success.

THE DREAM

Rekindle the affection of the fans. World Cup 2010 marked France’s all-time low, and one of the worst meltdowns to ever affect any national team. As nobody in France now expects Les Bleus to win the tournament, it’ll all be about regaining trust between a country and the players many (most, even) think aren’t fit to represent it.

A heroic defeat, preferably unfair (think Sevilla 82), would do the job nicely. If France won Group E, and beat (probably) Bosnia in the Round of 16, Germany would loom in the quarters. If not, it’d (probably) be Argentina first, in which case, adieu. But both opponents would be ideal foes against whom to achieve redemption.

THE NIGHTMARE

More meltdowns. When the draw for the 2010 World Cup was made, a well-known French radio commentator exclaimed the equivalent of ‘bingo!’ This time, fate was even kinder: Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras. What’s to fear?

Well, how about a repeat of 2002 (Denmark, Senegal, Uruguay: one draw, two defeats, no goals) or 2010 (Mexico, South Africa, Uruguay: one draw, two defeats, one goal), which would have cataclysmic repercussions at home. Benzema gets injured in the first game, Ribéry bullies the 2014 equivalent of Gourcuff, Evra goes on strike, president Hollande recalls Deschamps for talks... it’s 2010 all over again, only worse.

THE STATS
ADVERTISEMENT

PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO...

SPORT THE WORLD CUP'S BUSHIEST BEARD: KARIM BENZEMA

The striker's pogonophilia shows no sign of abating, especially as he’s rediscovered his goalscoring form since growing one. A kind of Tom Huddlestone in reverse.

PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO...

DO A ROLY-POLY AFTER AN IMAGINARY FOUL: MATHIEU VALBUENA

Nicknamed le Petit Vélo (‘Small Bike’ ), he’s obviously yet to learn how to ride it properly. Get some stabilisers, Matty!

PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO...

ELICIT THE MOST PREMIER LEAGUE TRANSFER RUMOURS: ANTOINE GRIEZMANN

The superb left-sided midfielder is currently at Real Sociedad. He’s young, French, 5ft 9in and talented on the ball. Did somebody say Arsenal? If not, they soon will.

DID YOU KNOW?

Mathieu Debuchy has so many tatToos that even he has lost count. “I’ve got a lot” he says, helpfully. “About religion, family...” It drives his (also tattooed) wife Ludivine potty.

Tweet this...

France have the individuals to go far... or to go home in shame, again. Their public isn't behind them but could be easily persuaded.