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Nickname: Les Bleus
Number of World Cup appearances: 12
Best World Cup finish: Winners (1998)
When June rolls around every soccer fan will know the name of Frenchman Thierry Henry, and not necessarily because of his great skill. Henry’s notorious handball was against Ireland in the second of a two-match playoff for Europe’s last spot in the World Cup. That play essentially gift wrapped France’s entry into the tournament and was undoubtedly the touch heard around the world that would spark endless debate about a possible replay of the match or another scenario.
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Well, France is in and Ireland is left home. Now France has the opportunity to silent cynics. They flopped in Euro 2008, but in 2006 they rallied around veteran Zinedine Zidane to reach the World Cup Final in Germany. This time around the same savvy leadership resides amongst the aforementioned Henry, as well as vets Patrick Vieira and William Gallas. But the old dogs are running with some young horses in the French stables. The likes of Yoann Gourcuff, Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema and their best pure scorer in Nicolas Anelka give them as much talent as anyone in this tournament.
Based on the manner in which the earned a ticket to South Africa, one would have only thought it would only be fair for the French to be stuck in the ‘Group of Death.’ That wasn’t the case, and France dodged another bullet by drawing the weakest of the seeded nations by being place alongside host South Africa. On paper the knockout round seems all but assured, but karma could be waiting on the back end for France to be ousted early for their ‘thief in the night’ type of victory over the Irish.
France World Cup Odds
France is currently 14/1 odds to win the World Cup.
They are 1/1 favorites to win Group A.
Key Player To Watch
France has talent across the board, but for my money the young Yoann Gourcuff will make his name on the international stage this summer. The Bordeaux midfielder has flourished in France’s Ligue 1 over the past couple seasons and has only begun to dabble in his potential for greatness. Only 23 years old, he appeared in nine games during the World Cup qualifying process and tallied one goal and five assists for his country. He has a touch for goal, but his skillset is best served for playmaking and setting up others in the build-up for attacks. And considering the number of capable finishers for France this summer, he should have plenty of chances to impress.
Best Team Asset
Depth. France doesn’t just have a lethal starting 11, but they will carry bench players that could start for most countries. And these footballers have been playing in Europe’s best domestic leagues to prep for the competition they will see this summer. Their versatility up front in the form of strikers Nicolas Anelka, Karim Benzema, as well as Henry and key reserves Sidney Govou and Andre Pierre Gignac will give coach Raymond Domenech an array of options to choose from each match.
Key Team Weakness
With defensive midfielder Claude Makelele having retired from international play, and Patrick Vieira still not guaranteed a spot in the starting line-up, there remains a big question as to the strength of the midfield defensively. Offense isn’t a concern, but the lack of a mainstay holding midfielder to work with the back four and keep opposing goal-scoring chances at a minimum is a concern from my vantage point.
France World Cup Predictions
Based on the number of countries that could reign as World Cup champions in 2010, France probably isn’t in the five or six most expected to compete for the crown as world’s best. But France always has high expectations, and considering this is their fourth straight tournament, the round of 16 seems to be a minimum exit point. Certainly anything is possible if the French can hold serve and make it to the knockout round, but my best guess would be for them to capture Group A and exit stage left soon there after.
Key First Round Match (best betting opportunity)
The French are going to be favored in all three of their group play matches, but a spot where backers can likely find a line that isn’t too inflated is their second match on June, 17 v. Mexico. If both France and Mexico are able to come away with three points in their opener, then this matchup would dictate the Group A winner. And not that France can’t be upset here, but a quick start to their campaign, unlike in qualifying, could be huge for their confidence and perhaps create a sleeping giant in the tournament. After all, they did rally all the way to the Final in 2006.
France World Cup Group Play Schedule
v. Uruguay, June 11, 2010 – 2:30 p.m. ET at Green Point (Cape Town)
v. Mexico, June 17, 2010 – 10 a.m. ET at Peter Mokaba (Polokwane)
v. South Africa, June 22, 2010 – 10 a.m. ET at Free State (Mangaung/Bloemfontein)
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