World Cup 2014: France national soccer team guide
A BLEU REVIVAL?
France haven’t exactly fallen on hard times, but Les Bleus haven’t necessarily lit the world of soccer on fire of late, either. Since the international powerhouse advanced to the finals of the 2006 World Cup, France failed to advance out of the group stage at Euro 2008 or the 2010 World Cup before advancing to the quarters of Euro 2012. And they flirted with disaster this year, falling behind Ukraine 2-0 in the first leg of a qualifying playoff before winning 3-0 in the second leg to earn their fifth straight World Cup berth. The 1998 tournament champions feature a mix of seasoned veterans familiar with success and some very green, yet very talented newcomers.
WHO GOT THEM THERE
Franck Ribéry, F/F, Bayern Munich (pictured left): Recognized as France’s best player and the heir apparent to former Les Bleus talisman Zinédine Zidane. He’s scored 16 goals for France and recently led his club to the UEFA Champions League title. He even went so far as to say he would end the duopoly that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have over the UEFA Player of the Year award, saying he would be the victor this season.
Olivier Giroud, F, Arsenal: The big, physical striker has a flare for the dramatic, claiming France “were ready to die on the pitch” in the second leg of the WCQ playoff against Ukraine. Despite just two goals in qualifying, his club coach believes he’s one of the best strikers in the English Premier League.
Didier Deschamps (right) was a player for France during their last World Cup triumph in 1998 on their home turf. He also became the youngest-ever captain to lead a team to the UEFA Champions League title when he did it with Marseille in 1993. Now he’s the manager tasked with leading Les Bleus back to the world’s top spot, a position he very nearly lost when his side narrowly scraped by Ukraine in a playoff qualifier. But after beating Ukraine 3-0 in the second leg on Nov. 19, he said he experienced the “magic of football.”
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 5-2-1, 17 pts. / 15 GF, 6 GA (second place in Europe’s Group I, beat Ukraine in playoff)
They didn’t make it easy on themselves, for certain. A loss to Spain (1-0 on March 26, 2012) and then a scoreless draw against lowly Georgia on Sept. 6 put France in a tentative spot as qualification drew to a close in their tough group. And then in a two-game playoff against Ukraine, Les Bleus first fell behind 2-0 after the first leg in Kyiv before a miraculous 3-0 win in Paris on Nov. 19 put them through to the World Cup.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
France’s biggest triumph came in 1998 on their home soil when Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane led them to glory, beating Brazil 3-0 in the championship game. That tournament also featured a drama-filled quarterfinal victory against Italy that was decided in penalties. France had another famous match against Italy in the 2006 World Cup final, an Italian win also on penalties made perhaps more famous, or infamous, for a certain head butt. France placed fourth in both 1982 and ’86 and third in ’58. Their 2010 World Cup ended in the group stage amid controversy.
One of France’s most decorated players is also one of MLS’ elite. Thierry Henry became France’s all-time leading goalscorer in October 2007, surpassing Michel Platini, before finishing his international career in 2010 with 51 goals in 123 appearances for Les Bleus. For the New York Red Bulls, where he signed in 2010, he has scored 41 times in 92 games and led them to the 2013 Supporters’ Shield … Portland Timbers defender Mikaël Silvestre, who came to the Rose City ahead of the 2013 season but had his year cut short with an injury, has 40 caps for France … In all, 23 players of French decent have played or are currently playing in MLS … The USMNT last played France on Nov. 11, 2011, losing 1-0 in Paris.