WITH the World Cup hotting-up, Gabriel Sutton ( @_FootbalLab ) reckons France are the best team to back to win the World Cup: here’s why.
Why France are the team to back outright
Firstly, the number of truly elite teams left in the World Cup is much smaller than we would have expected at this stage
Spain and Germany have been unable to successfully evolve the squads that won the tournament in 2010 and 2014 respectively; both have paid by being knocked out very early.
Despite being runners-up last time out, Argentina were largely shambolic while Euro 2016 winners Portugal also looked disappointing; both sides fly home, unlike previous total football kings Holland and four-time winners Italy, who didn’t even qualify.
In fact, the only other big name left in is Brazil. Although they have had a solid start, they perhaps don’t resemble the fluent, swashbuckling outfits of yesteryear and the defence that has thus far stood strong might be examined further by higher-quality opposition.
These developments only add to the feeling that this is a massive opportunity for a young France side which looks on the cusp of greatness.
They’ve got Mbappe
With Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta all flying home, it feels as though Russia 2018 won’t be remembered as an epic swansong for a long-established star. Instead, it could be the year somebody relatively new takes the world by storm and Kylian Mbappe has the capacity to do just that.
The wide forward, who enjoyed a mesmerising breakthrough 2016-17 campaign at Monaco, has seen his value soar following a big money move to PSG. It does not appear to have affected his temperament – given that he has pledged to donate any World Cup earnings to charity – and certainly not his performance level.
Mbappe used his pace to great effect in the 4-3 win over Argentina and has a useful relationship with Paul Pogba, who picks the perfectly-weighted passes that allows him to run in behind.
The 19-year-old, who also scored the winner in the 1-0 victory over Peru in the Group Stages, has grabbed the headlines so far more than Antoine Griezmann, who starred at Euro 2016.
Interestingly, Mbappe is 5/1 with Betfred to win the Golden Ball (best player). If France so much as reach the final, he’s very likely to get this award, which has always been given to an attacking midfielder or a striker – baring Uruguay defender Jose Nasazzi in 1930 and Germany goalkeeper Oliver Khan in 2002.
A player just as important as Mbappe is N’Golo Kante. Not only has he shown his trademark knack of making interceptions and tackles, ranking highly in both areas statistically, he doesn’t always need to engage with the ball to do his job properly.
For example, silky-footed Peruvian Christian Cueva looked a real threat against Australia, when he was given space around the edge of the box. When France played Peru, Kante never let Cueva out of his sight and that meant he was forced into a wide position, where he could not have the same influence.
Similarly, Didier Deschamps was criticized for playing Blaise Matuidi on the left side of midfield in that same game, but he did a good job of helping Lucas Hernandez negate Peru’s right-sided threat of Luis Advincula and Andre Carrillo.
Cueva, Advincula and Carrillo might not quite be of the world-class standard of some players France will have to face hereon in, but having two men willing to sacrifice personal glory to do their job for the team, without causing trouble or asking questions, is a vital ingredient.
Deschamps, who invented the water-carrier role when France last won this competition in 1998, knows that better than anyone; perhaps he sees echoes of his former self in Kante.
The betting angle
The current odds for France’s quarter-final clash with Uruguay, who will have a semi-fit Edinson Cavani, give them a 67% chance of progression. If, in the worst-case scenario they play Brazil in the semis, they would have at that point a 50% chance of reaching Moscow.
It would be naïve to say that any World Cup Final could be easy, but the toughest prospective finalists are Croatia and England; France currently look stronger than both.
The Croats have one of the oldest sides left in the competition and while the Three Lions are making fine progress under Gareth Southgate, we’re still a couple of years behind Les Bleus in terms of development.
If France made the final therefore, it would be reasonable to suggest they have roughly a 70% chance of lifting the trophy.
By our calculations, they have a 23% chance overall; but Smarkets offer 21/5 quotes on top honours for France which imply a probability of just 19%. Brazil are the favourites, but France are the team to back.
World Cup 2018 – France to win the World Cup (21/5 Smarkets)
World Cup 2018 – Kylian Mbappe to win the Golden Ball (5/1 Betfred)