So impressive in their surge up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking over the last 12 months, France have ended 2016 crowned as the 'Mover of the Year'. Didier Deschamps's team climbed from 25th spot to seventh on the global ladder, but what made them such a rising force in the world football hierarchy?FIFA.com takes a closer look.
Above all, *Les Bleus *managed to remain almost invincible throughout 2016, losing just once in 17 games. Unfortunately for them, that sole defeat came at the worst possible moment, succumbing to Portugal in the final of UEFA EURO 2016 on home soil. Having progressed through the tournament with eye-catching panache, including a semi-final victory against Germany, France were left shell-shocked by Eder's extra-time winner in the decider.
Despite the final outcome, that memorable run allowed Deschamps's men to leap ten places in the ranking, and they held on to seventh spot in the following months thanks to a strong start to FIFA World Cup™ qualifying. Putting their Stade de France nightmare behind them, *Les Bleus *responded by taking control of Group A in the European Zone preliminaries for Russia 2018, following up their disappointing 0-0 draw against Belarus by beating Bulgaria 4-1, edging the Netherlands 1-0 and seeing off Sweden 2-1.
New leaders and fresh facesDeschamps can be rightly proud of his team's performance since the start of the year, particularly given the various issues that made 2016 such a test of his management. Not only was he hit by the suspensions of senior players such as Karim Benzema and Mamadou Sakho, key performers like Mathieu Valbuena suffered a dip in form and both Raphael Varane and Lassana Diarra picked up injuries shortly before the EURO. In spite of those blows, Deschamps developed an effective squad by promoting new leaders and injecting a little fresh blood.
Up front, Antoine Griezmann emerged as the new jewel in France's starting XI, notably helping himself to a double in their last-four EURO 2016 showdown with Germany. He was given able support by various lieutenants who led by example, with Dimitri Payet contributing several important goals and Paul Pogba continuing to blossom in midfield while boasting a knack for the spectacular – all at the age of 23.
Deschamps also brought in exciting young prospects including Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman around the turn of the year, and both newcomers quickly began terrorising defenders out wide. As for N'Golo Kante, his fairy-tale season with Leicester City earned him a maiden call-up in March, and he wasted no time in tying down a midfield berth by the time the EURO kicked off.
Although he has always relied upon a stable core of players, Deschamps likes to keep his options open and has never shied away from recalling former regulars – even holding out an olive branch to players who have seemingly fallen out of love with the France team. He proved that yet again in 2016 by keeping faith in Andre-Pierre Gignac, despite the forward playing his club football in Mexico, while also selecting Adil Rami just before the EURO and bringing Kevin Gameiro back into the fold for the start of the World Cup qualifiers.
After such a positive year, the challenge now for France will be to maintain their momentum on the road to Russia 2018 over the coming months. Manage that and Les Bleus can expect to continue their rise up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking – and perhaps even match the lofty heights they reached at the start of the century.