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With a glut of friendly matches before the World Cup in Russia begins this June, Didier Deschamps has plenty of opportunity to fine-tune his France team ahead of the tournament. That France have a squad rich in talent is not in question. But does their qualifying campaign justify their position as third-favourites for the tournament?
The common trend amongst bookmakers is that Germany and Brazil are the tournament favourites. With Germany marginal favourites ahead of the team they demoralised in the semi-finals in the previous tournament; some do have little or nothing between the two countries. Unibet have the countries both at 19/4, while bet365 have them both tied at 9/2.
This will vary slightly as the tournament approaches, but the country with the next shortest odds, France, are 11/2 with a host of bookies, from William Hill to Coral, to BetVictor. But despite their abundance of talent, do they justify being ranked ahead of the likes of Spain, Argentina and Belgium?
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If World Cup betting offers and free bets by Freebets.co.uk are to be used to one’s advantage, it is relevant to look closely at France’s performances in qualifying for the World Cup. Belarus and Luxembourg could only muster two victories between them, so on the surface, this was a four-way battle between France, Bulgaria, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Under Peter Hubchev, Bulgaria are improving incrementally. But they are still out of touching distance from the stronger sides in Europe. With a Swedish side who are more than the sum of their parts, the only other real opposition of note for the French were the Dutch.
It is hard to consider a greater World Cup hangover than that of this Dutch team since their exploits under Louis van Gaal four years ago. That tournament saw heroes made of the likes of goalkeeper Tim Krul; since then however they have struggled to recapture that tournament magic.
With that, France were favourites to top Group A. With the likes of Hugo Lloris, N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann in their ranks; justifiably so. The four-point cushion that France had on winning the group, masks some issues though.
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A scoreless draw in the opening qualifier against Belarus was worrying, however, Deschamp’s team seemed to bounce back with four wins in their next five games, including a 4-0 demolition of the Netherlands. However, this win was a reaction to a flat 2-1 defeat to Sweden in the game preceding it.
That though, would not prove to be a low point. Despite having 34 shots and 76% possession in their game with Luxembourg in Paris last September, they had the ignominy of failing to beat the minnows on home soil. It could have been worse if Gelson Rodrigues had not struck the woodwork for the visitors.
So when France’s Group C opposition is perused ahead of this summer, it would be remiss to dismiss Australia, whom they face in their opening game. With Peru and Denmark also to contend with, Group C is not the apparent waltz into the second round that it is at times made out to be.
France have the players to justify being a strong contender in Russia; but they will need to illustrate their ability to get the balance right and their innate ability to shine. And that, ultimately, will rest on the shoulders of Deschamps.