The Rio Report

How second coming of Deschamps resurrected French hopes

The Rio Report

The French have alternated between triumph and disaster in recent World Cups but with former "captain fantastic" Didier Deschamps now at the helm things seem to be starting to come good.

The epic 1998 victory on home soil, which came just four years after they had failed to qualify, was followed by a disgraceful first-round exit in 2002. The next time around they made it to the final, but then they fell at the first hurdle again in South Africa.

At that point France slumped to 27th in the world.

If their World Cup rollercoaster continues on trend, the ride is due to be back on the rise – and if that proves to be the case, it will all be down to national hero Deschamps.

All about winning, he is tactically astute and flexible, but has his own mind and can be very stubborn. He is known as a major motivator, and his careful combination of dramatic speeches and quiet words of encouragement has been key to his success.

He inspired his country to World Cup and European Championship success before turning to a management career in which he has taken Monaco to the Champions League final and ended Marseille’s 17 blank years with three successive league and cup doubles.

But after inheriting a side in a slump of low esteem, turning France around was his biggest challenge yet.

His first move was to bring in new blood, taking on a fresh dynamic with Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane, 19, Paul Pogba of Juventus, 20, and the then PSG, now Liverpool defender, 23-year-old Mamadou Sakho.

It became a side that was young and physically imposing, a side that can unsettle technically superior opponents.

It became about the team, not the stars – and much like the 1988 manager Aime Jaquet, the approach has been squad unity is paramount, even if it costs stars their place.

Karim Benzema, one of the few high profile players in the squad, was low on morale when Deschamps arrived and he was promptly dropped.

It proved an inspired move. It took him out of the firing line - and now he's back and thriving. France have won all 19 games in which he has scored.

"He must be given credit for the way he's approached things," said Deschamps. "He has found his drive and he's been fantastic."

The ruthless selection approach continued right to the moment he chose his World Cup squad, when attacking midfielder Samir Nasri was omitted due to the wealth of other talent available and a questionable attitude.

That decision was coupled with a change in playing formation just before Brazil, switching from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 to create a system more familiar to most of his players. It plays to the natural strengths of Paul Pogba, Blaise Mauidi and Yohan Cabaye in midfield, making the side tough to break down but quickly able to get forward.

But people have still been hard to convince.

"Nobody in France believes that that France will win the World Cup,” said Arsene Wenger before the tournament began.

But that lack of expectation means there is less pressure on this France team than any other since the 1986 World Cup and the fact theirs was the least challenging group of all opened the door.

Zinedine Zidane got in touch with Benzema on the eve of the tournament and told him to take risks and express himself. He scored three goals and got two assists in the first two games.

France sailed through with seven points but more importantly it allowed them to practice some squad rotation, another important approach Deschamps learned off Jaquet.

In the opening three matches, the players each had an average of 80 minutes rest and the less favoured members of the 23-man squad were still able to stay match ready in case they are needed later in the tournament.

But most importantly, the fans are now starting to change their tune.

"We have noticed a change, a rekindled fondness,” said team captain Hugo Lloris. “We have made the effort on the pitch to make the fans happy so far, but we want to go further."

France will need all their support now, with Germany waiting for them on Friday.

But Deschamps knows how it feels to win a World Cup – and you get the feeling he and the whole of France is now genuinely starting to believe that the rollercoaster can reach the top once again.

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