‘2014 World Cup’
The French may not have a direct equivalent to the word ‘teenager’ (there being no numerical suffix akin to ‘-teen’ in the language of Molière), but that doesn’t stop them remarking on the novelty when a player under the age of 20 is called up by the national team.
It happened twice earlier this month, when 19-year-olds Raphaël Varane and Paul Pogba were both included in Didier Deschamps’ squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Spain. Pogba rather spoilt the symmetry by turning 20 the following day, but it was such a rarity that L’Équipe marked the occasion with a photographic slideshow of the players to have graced the blue jersey while still awaiting the end of their second decade.
Varane and Pogba are exceptions. The expectation, in France, is that players will earn their spurs in the junior versions of the national team before eventually graduating to the senior side. France’s under-21 squad – known as les Espoirs (literally, ‘the hopes’) – brims with exciting players such as Milan striker M’Baye Niang and the Lyon pair of Clément Grenier and Alexandre Lacazette, but although they play for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, there is no clamour for them to be promoted to the senior squad before they are ready. That is partly down to the depth of talent already at Deschamps’ disposal, but it is also, partly, cultural.
Exceptional indeed is the player who is excused an apprenticeship in France’s representative youth teams. Despite Pogba’s widely acclaimed performances for Juventus this season, Deschamps has admitted to reluctance about allowing him to stroll straight into the first-team set-up. As recently as January, the former Marseille manager said the midfielder still needed “some carrot and stick” before he could be considered for selection. Both Pogba and Varane impressed on their debuts against Georgia on Friday, but afterwards the word on Deschamps’ lips was “potential”.
“LONDON — England beat Brazil 2-1 on Wednesday to end a 23-year wait for victory over the five-time world champions and consign Luiz Felipe Scolari to defeat in the first game of his second spell as Brazil coach.”
My match report on England’s unexpectedly assured victory over Brazil at Wembley can be read here. There’s also a reaction piece here: Hodgson encouraged by England’s young lions.
“Karim Benzema is still to score in the [Didier] Deschamps era, but he and Franck Ribéry often appear the only players capable of making things happen in the final third. The Real Madrid striker could have scored three or four goals against Japan before being withdrawn at half-time, while Ribéry tested [Eiji] Kawashima twice within minutes of entering the fray as a 68th-minute substitute. As L’Equipe drily noted on Saturday, “without Benzema and Ribery, nothing much happens”.”
I’ve written a piece for AFP on France’s misfiring forwards, ahead of Tuesday’s pivotal World Cup qualifier with Spain in Madrid. You can read it here.
Didier Deschamps may have been overlooked for the France job in both 2008 and 2010, but upon finally taking up the role in July this year, he found the problems facing the national coach had barely changed.
As in 2010 and, to a lesser extent, 2008, France emerged from this year’s major tournament chastened by sporting underachievement and embarrassed by reports of off-pitch turmoil. The fall-out from Euro 2012 was nowhere near as painful as it was after the rank humiliation of the 2010 World Cup, nor were the performances as poor as they were either in South Africa or at Euro 2008, but Deschamps knows that there is nonetheless, if not a full rebuilding process, then a period of recalibration to be undertaken.
For all the criticism of France’s conservative approach against Spain in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, and all the tales of changing-room unrest that abounded, Laurent Blanc clearly left the team in a far healthier state than he had found it. Three months after taking up the reins from his former international team-mate, Deschamps is already making his mark by attempting to create a side that packs more of a punch on the pitch, but generates fewer headlines off it.
In his first press conference after taking over, Deschamps said he wanted to build a side that “imposes itself on its opponents”, and the most striking thing about the teams that he has fielded in his three games so far has been their physicality.
“PARIS — France took control of their 2014 World Cup qualifying group by overcoming a second-half wobble to beat former bêtes noires Belarus 3-1 at Stade de France on Tuesday.”
My AFP match report on France’s victory over Belarus, which featured first international goals for Étienne Capoue and Christophe Jallet, as well as a man-of-the-match performance from Franck Ribéry, can be read here.