No Time for France to Grieve After World Cup Hearbreak

December 24, 2022


It’s never easy for any team in any competition to lose a final. The feeling of coming so close only to be left so far away in the end is surely frustrating, even for those who had won the previous edition of the competition. The bigger stage the bigger the pain of it, and there’s no bigger stage than the World Cup.

France were very impressive throughout the tournament in Qatar, despite missing some key players. Paul Pogba, who played a major part in France’s World Cup triumph in 2018, is yet to play at all this season, and Karim Benzema picked up an injury before the start, having just won the Ballon d’Or. Left-back Lucas Hernandez was forced to drop out after only 12 minutes of the opening match.

Didier Deschamps made the right mixture and set the right combination again, arranging his men mostly in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Hernandez’s departure glossed over by his brother Theo, Barcelona defender Jules Kounde on the right, and the trio of Raphael Varane, Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate alternating in the two centre-back roles. Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot were the double-pivot in midfield, with Antoine Griezmann very effective in the No. 10 position, supporting striker Olivier Giroud together with Kylian Mbappe on the left and Ousmane Dembele on the right. Captained by Hugo Lloris from between the posts, this has truly been a formidable lineup.

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Looking into the future, this World Cup was surely the last, possibly the last major tournament at all, for Lloris, 35, Giroud, 36, and Benzema, 34. It remains to be seen if Griezmann is called up in 2026, when he’ll have turned 35 himself. Pogba turns 33 that year, and if his fitness record doesn’t improve before then, the hope of him being able to make a contribution will fade as well.

For these players, this moment in time may seem like the end of an era, but France need not worry about what lies ahead. There’s plenty of youth in their ranks.

For one, they’ll still be led by the brilliant Kylian Mbappe, who smashed three goals past the insolent Emiliano Martinez in that final heartbreak. The PSG man has just turned 24, Dembele is 25, as is Marcus Thuram, and Randal Kolo Muani, who made several bright cameos, is 24.

Tchouameni has been a Real Madrid player only a couple of months and at the age of 22, he’s already shown that the Spanish giants made no mistake when they chose to part with €80 million to bring him in. The same goes for 20-year-old Eduardo Camavinga, already a La Liga champion and a Champions League winner.

At the back, Varane is still only 29, despite also being a seasoned winner at the highest level; Upamecano is 24 and playing for Bayern Munich, Konate is a bright prospect for Liverpool at 22. Theo is 25, Kounde 24.

One would expect a top goalkeeper like Lloris would possibly be very hard to replace, but France already have ready-made star in AC Milan’s Mike Maignan, 27, another one who missed this tournament through injury.

For all these players, this lost final will probably serve as a strong learning curve, a painful but invaluable experience, a reminder that nothing less than 100% from the first whistle on the opening day to the last one of the final brings a chance of winning the World Cup.

But just as any other team after such an excruciating pain, the first step towards getting over it is to look to the next challenge and focus on it as hard as possible. For France, it will be the qualifying campaign for the Euro 2024, and they certainly won’t have the luxury of letting their minds dwell on Qatar. Expected to fight to the last round for the top spot in Group B against Netherlands, they will also face the Republic of Ireland, Greece and Gibraltar.

But even before those qualifications start, France need to sort out the situation with Deschamps’ contract, which expires at the end of this month. FFF chief Noel Le Graet recently revealed plans for talks on the subject to be held next week and expressed the hope that the 54-year-old tactician, a World Cup winner both as a player and a manager, will remain in charge of the team for the foreseeable future.

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