Flying France equipped for trophy defence

  • Reigning world champions France are through to Qatar 2022

  • How have Les Bleus progressed since their Moscow triumph?

  • Key factors: Mbappe kicks on, Benzema returns, a deep talent pool

There was an unmistakable air of déjà-vu at the Parc des Princes on Saturday evening, with France needing one win from their last two matches to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, the first of them against a Kazakhstan side they were widely expected to beat. Rewind 28 years to November 1993 and Les Bleus were in a very similar situation: needing only a point from their last two games – both at the Parc des Princes – to book their place at USA 1994. They failed to get that point, however, contriving to lose to Israel and then going down to a dramatic defeat to Bulgaria, courtesy of a last-minute Emil Kostadinov strike. A World Cup winner as a player in 1998 and then as a coach in 2018, Didier Deschamps was on the pitch that day. Yet, nearly three decades on, there was no question of him reliving the Bulgarian nightmare, as his players cruised to an 8-0 win over the Kazakhs to make sure of top spot in Group D. In doing so, they became the third European nation to qualify for Qatar 2022 after Germany and Denmark, with Belgium also advancing on Saturday night. looks at how France have kicked on since winning the last World Cup.

The stats of champions

14 In sweeping aside Kazakhstan to secure their place at Qatar 2022, France qualified for their 14th consecutive major tournament (World Cups and UEFA EUROs). The last one they missed was USA 1994.

17 Les Bleus have scored in each of their last 17 matches (39 goals in total). They have found the back of the net 16 times in their seven matches in Group D so far.

25 France are now unbeaten in 25 competitive matches (17 wins and eight draws). Since losing to Turkey in a UEFA EURO 2020 qualifier on 8 June 2019, they have lost just a solitary friendly – a 2-0 defeat to Finland on 11 November 2020. In fact, the French have suffered just one normal-time defeat since winning Russia 2018: a 2-0 reverse at the hands of the Netherlands in the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League.

3,414 Saturday was Deschamps’ 3,414th day in the France job, having taken it up nine years, four months and four days ago. On 3 April this year, he became France’s longest-serving coach of all time, overtaking the late Michel Hidalgo (3,189 days).

The golden triangle

While France’s attacking firepower was already impressive in 2018, Deschamps has bolstered it on the road to Qatar 2022, recalling Karim Benzema after a five-year absence and deploying him alongside Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe. “They’re so talented they can adapt to any situation,” said the Real Madrid striker before lining up for the first time with the two World Cup winners. “We’re top-level players. It just clicks. “We don’t need to think about it. It’s not hard to play with Griezmann and Mbappe. I like playing with them. They can do everything.” Though France’s fearsome front three struggled to fire at first and could not prevent a penalty-shootout defeat to Switzerland in the Round of 16 at UEFA EURO 2020, they worked their magic in the 2021 UEFA Nations League, proving inspirational in the respective 3-2 and 2-1 wins over Belgium and Spain. They also displayed their attacking prowess in the eight-goal demolition of Kazakhstan, scoring all but one of their side’s goals, with Mbappe helping himself to four, Benzema two, and Griezmann one.

A bright present and future

A number of World Cup winners have drifted out of the squad in recent times, with the likes of Blaise Matuidi, Samuel Umtiti, Steve Mandanda, Steven Nzonzi and – more recently – Olivier Giroud losing their places due to age and a lack of playing time at their clubs. That does not mean to say, however, that Deschamps does not have lots of alternatives as he plots France’s path to another world title in Qatar. Since September 2020, he has called up 41 players in all, assessing his options in every department. Mike Maignan represents the future between the posts, and Dayot Upamecano, Jules Kounde and Nordi Mukiele have proven themselves in defence. In midfield, Eduardo Camavinga, Matteo Guendouzi and the impressive Aurelien Tchouameni are ready to make their mark, while Moussa Diaby, Marcus Thuram and Kingsley Coman provide quality back-up in attack. It should not be forgotten either that Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele are still only 22 and 24 respectively. Having made sure of their place at Qatar 2022, the reigning world champions now have a year to prepare for another major objective: to become the third team in history to retain the world title after Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962).