Whatever happens with France this summer you can bet that it won’t be dull. Les Bleus’ record of qualifying for major tournaments is not without blemish, nor are they averse to a good dollop of controversy.
Remember a particularly handsy Thierry Henry and thousands of irate Irishmen in late 2009?
This time too, luck has shone on the traditional superpower as they find themselves in a manageable Group E, while Spain, who bested them in the qualification phase, have a much tougher looking route to the knockout stages.
It seems that at finals tournaments, France can either be sublime or ridiculous and rarely anywhere in-between. Four years ago, an awful showing and a player revolt saw them leave South Africa in a shambles. When they get it right though, they get it very right indeed and are usually still featuring when the tournament nears conclusion.
Didier Deschamps’ final 23 looks to be fairly well-balanced and as usual the overall quality poses no issue.
Most of the names ply their trade at Europe’s top clubs and there is an increase this time around in those turning out in their native Ligue 1, thanks largely to the recent strengthening of PSG.
Pretty much anyone in the France squad would be a certain starter for group opponents, Switzerland, Ecuador or Honduras.
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Mickaël Landreau (Bastia), Stéphane Ruffier (St-Étienne)
Defenders: Patrice Evra (Manchester Utd), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Raphaël Varane (Real Madrid), Lucas Digne (PSG), Eliaquim Mangala (Porto)
Midfielders: Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille), Yohan Cabaye (PSG), Blaise Matuidi (PSG), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Rio Mavuba (Lille), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Clément Grenier (Lyon), Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad)
Strikers: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Loïc Rémy (Newcastle)
The highest profile casualty of Deschamps’ final list is midfielder Samir Nasri. Having recently won his second league title in three years and with over 40 caps to his name, the Manchester City man has expressed his disbelief publicly.
The emergence of Lucas Digne at left back has also seen Nasri’s club-mate Gaël Clichy miss the cut.
The decision to take only 3 recognised strikers meant curtains for the hopes of André-Pierre Gignac and Bafetimbi Gomis, who netted 16 and 14 times respectively during the Ligue 1 season.
Didier Deschamps is a man with first-hand knowledge of what it takes to win football’s biggest prize. The former midfielder captained his country to glory on home turf in 1998. He then backed this up by claiming the European Championship two years later.
As a coach his CV is less glamorous but he still has a few successes under his belt, mostly with Ligue 1 sides.
He heads for Brazil with the French public in full support and optimism on the rise across his homeland. Things could have been very different however. Had his side failed to haul back the first-leg playoff deficit against Ukraine, it is unlikely even a national hero would have survived the fallout.
The scare will have further toughened his resolve. Bravery, one of his traits on the pitch, remains a string to his bow.
He was bold with his second-leg playoff tactics and never shirks the big calls. Leaving out Nasri for example, will have shocked many but Deschamps will not fear the potential repercussions.
Both the standard approach and the slightly more adventurous alternative in Deschamps’ thinking seem to stick rigidly with the lone front-man, most likely Karim Benzema who has enjoyed a good season in Spain.
The usual strategy sees him spearhead a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Franck Ribéry the most important of the three operating behind him.
Alternatively a 4-3-3 would see Ribéry and Antoine Griezmann or possibly Mathieu Valbuena pushed up wide on either side of him. Only in dire circumstances is Olivier Giroud or Loïc Rémy liable to be thrown on alongside the Real Madrid man.
Deschamps will surely seek to go on the offensive to ensure France take advantage of their apparently easier group in order to avoid Argentina in the round of 16.
Their group stage opponents will surely look to defend and the man charged with unlocking the door will be Ribéry. While Les Bleus boasts general quality, the Bayern man is the only member who can rightly claim to be world class and he will be crucial to their plans.
Elsewhere Patrice Evra and Hugo Lloris provide experience in the rearguard while Raphaël Varane at centre back and engine room component Paul Pogba, look like an exciting spine for French sides of the future.
Franck Ribéry – Now 31, this could well be his last World Cup and he will be determined to get a good run after the debacle in South Africa.
The Bayern man will be the one charged with making things happen in attack for France. A naturally gifted creator, he is at home on either flank or operating in the number ten role.
Expect to see nimble footwork and superb vision but also a willingness to chase and pressurise defenders not necessarily associated with a French flair player. He simply must get into his stride if France are to go far.
One to watch
Paul Pogba – Already an established star in Serie A, Pogba looks set for a future at the very top of the game.
A supreme athlete with a touch the envy of many a smaller player, this could be the tournament where his value skyrockets.
An imposing presence who will start in midfield despite his lack of international experience, Pogba will form an exciting midfield partnership with the likes of Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye.
France scraped into the tournament after recovering a desperate-looking playoff situation against Ukraine but that should not detract from the huge potential within the squad.
They boast a useful combination of experience and youth; their rising stars have an athleticism that should stand to them in the Brazilian climate.
Les Bleus have the ability in their ranks to frighten any of the favourites and could be a good outside bet, but a likely quarter final against Germany is more realistically going to be their limit.