- France head up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking
- Jump of six places for the newly crowned world champions
- “We have a new status to defend,” says Deschamps
France are back on the throne. The latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking saw Les Bleus occupy top spot for the first time in 17 years. “That position comes as rich reward for all the work we’ve done over these last few years,” said France coach Didier Deschamps in response.
Deschamps called time on his international career eight months before Les Tricolores topped the Ranking for the first time in their history, a reign that lasted from May 2001 to June 2002 for the then world and European champions.
The second star collected by the French at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ had an immediate effect on their position in the Ranking, which has been calculated according to a new formula since August. Having lain seventh since April, France jumped six places to take over at the top from Germany, who dropped down to 15th following their early elimination in Russia.
It remains to be seen if France, who have fallen out of the top ten several times in the last decade, have the resources to stay out front for a long time. “We now know what to expect,” said Deschamps, pondering that challenge. “Teams always raise their game whenever they play France and that’s going to be the case even more so now. We’ve got a new status to defend.”
State of mind
Les Bleus certainly seems to have the means to make their stay at the top a lengthy one. Since taking over in 2012, Deschamps has worked hard on their mental resolve, which was so severely shaken by their disastrous showing at South Africa 2010, and on instilling his players with their now-famed will to win.
France’s run to the quarter-finals at Brazil 2014 marked their return to the global elite, while the disappointment of losing on home soil in the final of UEFA EURO 2016 was channelled into a burning desire for glory that swept all before it in Russia.
“At EURO 2016, we thought we’d already got the job done,” said Paul Pogba before the Final against Croatia, a match the French went into as favourites once more. Despite enjoying less possession than the Croatians and being forced back by their opponents, Les Bleus still emerged 4-2 winners, thanks in no small part to Antoine Griezmann’s set-piece skills.
“France have to keep on working the way we have been,” the striker told us in a recent interview. “We’ve got the EUROs coming up in two years and we want to win it. And then we’ll see what happens in Qatar. We’ve got a very young squad – it was one of the youngest in Russia, I think – and that’s going to help us.”
Reserves of talent
Coach Deschamps has a large talent pool to call on. Over the last six years he has worked tirelessly in revamping the squad and building the confidence of his young players. Nowhere has that been more evident than in Russia, where he handed starting places to several major tournament newcomers, among them Kylian Mbappe, who picked up the FIFA Young Player Award, and full-backs Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez.
The number of players in France’s 23-man Russia 2018 squad who had never appeared at a major international competition before.
Deschamps also has alternatives between the posts, where captain Hugo Lloris is the undisputed first-choice. With Lloris unavailable for the start of France’s UEFA Nations League campaign, the coach handed Alphonse Areola his first caps. The keeper responded by pulling off some fine stops in the goalless draw with Germany and then turning in a solid display in the 2-1 defeat of the Netherlands.
In bringing through bright young talents and getting the best out of his more experienced hands, Deschamps has found a balance that has taken France back to the summit of world football, where they will hope to stay for a long time yet.