Following his departure from Manchester United in 2012, there’s been no looking back for the French star. Since his move, Pogba, he's won 9 caps for France and been the driving force behind Juve’s back-to-back Scudetto victories. The 2013 best young player in Europe, is a master at breaking up play to start attacks and will be Le Bleus midfield general for years to come. Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t make many mistakes during his reign at Old Trafford, but he’ll regret letting Pogba go.
Getty ImagesJean Catuffe
Les Bleus acquired a deserved reputation as nearly men with a trio of third and fourth-place finishes prior to their breakthrough on home soil in 1998. Zidane inspired his side to triumph over Brazil in the final and spurred a country onto the streets of Paris. He nearly carried his aging side to a second title in 2006, but the core of the group crumbled in short order after that point. The embarrassing voyage to South Africa merely underscored the need for fresh faces in the post-Zidane era.
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Don’t believe the French are mercurial at the World Cup? Consider this: They placed third in 1958; didn’t qualify in ‘62; crashed out in the group stage in ‘66; didn’t qualify again in ‘70 and ‘74 before going out in the group stage again in ’78. Then it got worse. In ’82 and ’86 they made the semifinals but in ’90 and ’94 they didn’t qualify. In ’98 they won it. In 2002 they crashed out in the group stage. 2006: finalists. 2010: group stage elimination. Which is all to say that you never quite know what you’ll get from the French. They could be wonderful; they could be wretched. This team certainly doesn’t lack talent, but will they all get along famously like in ’98, or will they refuse to practice and go on strike like in 2010?
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How they got here
A journey through the playoffs appeared likely from the moment France landed alongside Spain in Group I. Pedro confirmed that route when he handed the World Cup holders a 1-0 victory at the Stade de France in March. The playoff draw popped out a rather more favorable date with Ukraine, but a dismal display in the away leg in Kiev left Didier Deschamps' side with a two-goal deficit to overturn in Saint-Denis. Mamadou Sakho scored twice to spark France to a 3-0 win on home soil to cinch a berth in Brazil.
AFP/Getty ImagesLIONEL BONAVENTURE
Peachy. Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras. France pretty much got the weakest team from South America, Central America and Europe. You really can’t ask for much more. The French should cruise into the knockout rounds.
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Round of 16 prospects
Promising. Group E, a weak bunch, crosses over with Group F, also a weak bunch – only Argentina is a contender; Bosnia & Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria are decidedly not. Avoid the Argentines in the round of 16 and France should be into the quarterfinals without breaking a sweat.
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Deschamps must procure consistent performances from a brittle squad comprised of aging mainstays, temperamental stars and untested performers at the highest level. Pogba offers potential salvation, but his powers alone cannot eradicate the lingering concerns about the suspect mentality of a group reliant on erratic figures like Karim Benzema. Any outcome from a second round exit to a semifinal berth remains firmly on the table depending on how this side molds together.