Coming off of a nightmare situation at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, France is having a fine “bounce-back” World Cup. With a team led by key contributors in their prime, such as Hugo Lloris and Karim Benzema, France have a legitimate shot to win it all.
The French seemed a candidate for a bounce-back World Cup when they were placed in a group with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras. While none of the games were easy, they generally aren’t at the World Cup, it was probably the easiest scenario Les Bleus could have hoped for. Switzerland and Ecuador were two of the tournament’s dark horses, and while both are quality sides, France progressed through the group with relative ease.
The French won their group. A feat that fellow European heavyweights England, Italy and Spain couldn’t manage. Regardless of how well Didier Deschamps’ squad finishes in Brazil, 2018 could be the French’s time to shine.
The current nucleus of Deschamps’ team is the duo of Lloris and Benzema. Franck Ribery would be part of the group as well if a recent injury didn’t rule him out of the World Cup. Ribery will probably still be kicking around in 2018 when he’ll be 35. At that age he may not be the headliner like he would have been with the current group, but he could still play a part. On the other hand, Lloris and Benzema will be 31 and 30 respectively, meaning both will still be in their relative primes. Other recent contributors such as Blaise Matuidi (31 in 2018), Samir Nasri (31 in 2018) and Loic Remy (also 31 in 2018) will still be ready to go for Russia 2018.
And let’s not forget Euro 2016, which will be hosted in France.
France’s future potential will be determined by their youth. Sure, youth is the future, and you can say that every country’s future is in its youth, but the current group of French youngsters are a truly exciting bunch with big-time potential. And they’ll all be in their prime for 2016 and 2018.
Here’s a look at what the future holds for Les Bleus:
(All ages in parenthesis will be player’s ages in 2018)
Alphonse Areola is the future not only for France, but for his club team, PSG. He’ll be 25 in 2018 and hopefully a full-fledged starter for the Parisian club. That is to say if PSG doesn’t make a panic buy and bring in Lloris this summer. While Lloris will still probably be the starter in Russia, Areola could be there too, regardless of whether PSG is paying his wages.
France’s young defenders may be the best and deepest position of the bunch. With a group that includes Monaco right-back Layvin Kurzawa (25), frequently rumored big-club transfer target and current Porto defenseman Eliaquim Mangala (27), recent Chelsea signing Kurt Zouma (23), Liverpool stalwart Mamadou Sakho (28), promising Real Madrid youngster Raphael Varane (24) and PSG right-back Lucas Digne (24), France will be strong at the back.
While the defenders may be the deepest, some of France’s finest players may come out of the midfield. Golden Boy and rising star Paul Pogba will be the headliner going forward. The current Juve man has the potential to be one of the world’s best players, if not, at the very least, a world-class talent. He’ll be 25 in 2018. Potentially joining him in the midfield are Monaco’s Geoffrey Kondogbia (25), current Lyon attacking ace Clement Grenier (27), Marseille standout Florian Thauvin (25) and PSG up-and-comer Adrien Rabiot (23).
The future of France’s attacking play lies in the hands, or feet, of Antoine Griezmann. The Real Sociedad youth-product impressed mightily last season in La Liga. The Frenchman’s 16 goals were good for the sixth most in the top Spanish division last season. His sixteen goals were also more than established stars like Gareth Bale, Pedro and David Villa. Playing in the 2018 World Cup should be a near lock if he continues his career trajectory and improvement. Did I mention he’ll only be 27 in 2018? Potentially joining him in four years’ time are Arsenal youngster Yaya Sanogo (25), Rennes forward, and still possible Arsenal transfer target, Paul-Georges Ntep (24), Milan owned, recent Montpellier loanee M’Baye Niang (24) and Lyon attacking menace Alexandre Lacazette (26).
Does the collective youth of these players mean that they’ll all make the World Cup roster in 2018? No. But all of these superbly talented players will be in their primes when 2018 rolls around. It also gives France a fine foundation upon which to build. Les Bleus will still likely have players like Laurent Koschielny (32), Yohan Cabaye (33) and Mathieu Valbuena (33) around for Russia. It won’t be all youth, but if the French can properly blend the talented youngsters with more experienced players like Benzema and Cabaye, 2018 could be France’s year.