France begin their defence of the World Cup with a match against Australia on Tuesday evening, the same foes that Les Bleus defeated en route to the title in 2018.
On average, only half of the players who line up for the World Cup winners in a final will reemerge in the opening group game of the next tournament. Four of the XI which defeated Croatia four-and-a-half years ago didn’t make the squad this time around, including all three of the midfielders (N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi).
Here’s the XI Didier Deschamps may deploy to kick off their sojourn in Qatar.
GK: Hugo Lloris – The most capped French captain in the history of the men’s national team is set to lead his team out in Qatar with the armband on again.
RB: Benjamin Pavard – “France are the team that everyone wants to beat,” according to Pavard, a winner in 2018. “As the reigning champions, everyone will be gunning for us.”
CB: Raphael Varane – When the Manchester United centre-back limped off in tears at Stamford Bridge in October, serenaded by unsympathetic Chelsea fans, it seemed impossible that he would make France’s World Cup squad. However, Deschamps assured fans that Varane “is supposed to be available for the first game”.
CB: Ibrahima Konate – The towering Liverpool defender only earned his international debut in June but could be thrust into the starting XI on the grand stage against the Socceroos.
LB: Lucas Hernandez – Last year Hernandez avoided prison time after holidaying with his wife despite both having restraining orders against one another.
CM: Aurelien Tchouameni – A student of the game, Deschamps has been effusive in his praise for what Tchouameni does off the pitch as much on it. “He really listens,” his coach gushed, “he’s organised and he thinks about his football.”
CM: Youssouf Fofana – Another recent addition to the senior national set-up, the wheels of Fofana’s ascent have been greased by the tournament-ending injuries to Pogba and Kante.
CM: Adrien Rabiot – The devilishly divisive midfielder refused to be named on the national team’s standby list for the World Cup-winning squad in Russia. Four-and-a-half years on, he has climbed (fallen) up the hierarchy.
AM: Antoine Griezmann – Deschamps’ star pupil has featured in 106 of France’s last 110 matches across all competitions and friendlies.
ST: Karim Benzema – In October, Benzema became the oldest player to win their first Ballon d’Or since Stanley Matthews claimed the gong in 1956 aged 41.
ST: Kylian Mbappe – During the September international break, Mbappe made it abundantly clear that he prefers to play with “a number 9 like Olivier [Giroud] who occupies the defences”. Benzema was injured during that hiatus but the pair are expected to start alongside one another – whether Mbappe likes it or not – this winter.