Five reasons France will win the World Cup
You all know it (and if you don't, I am telling you now), France will win the 2014 World Cup.
In the past 16 years, France reached the final once every two editions: 1998 (winners), 2002 (out in group stages), 2006 (lost to Italy on penalties in the final) and 2010 (group stages). So they will be there again on July 13 and this time, they will bring the trophy back to the Champs Elysées.
These are five reasons you should bet on France:
1. Karim Benzema
Karim Benzema missed the 2010 World Cup because Raymond Domenech didn't believe in him. But this year, he will be there and he will shine.
He has had the best season of his career with 17 goals and nine assists for Real Madrid in La Liga. He played a key part in the Champions League/Copa del Rey double and his outstanding performance against Ukraine with France in the World Cup playoff semifinal in November has sent him to another level on the international scene. Before, he was the prodigy striker that was extremely talented but who, too often, disappointed. That home leg of the playoff at the Stade de France, where he scored a crucial goal, changed everything.
Since, he has netted four times in three games with Les Bleus and was fantastic against Jamaica on Sunday in France's last friendly before flying to Brazil. Benzema, 27 in December, with 66 caps and 21 goals already, will play on the left of the attack during the tournament to compensate for Ribery's absence. It's not his favourite position, but he doesn't mind playing there.
Since a young age, he has always liked drifting onto the left to get the ball. His runs are often toward that direction. It comes naturally to him. It gives him more freedom as well; he will leave the centre to Giroud. His confidence is sky-high and for once, he doesn't feel too much pressure on his shoulders. Back in 2012 at the Euros, he tried too hard to be the nation's saviour and it didn't work. He has learned from his mistake and we will now see a more relaxed, free-minded Benzema. He is a man on a mission who, this time, is ready to carry his country to the top.
2. Paul Pogba
You might be familiar with his talent, especially if you are a gutted Manchester United fan or a delighted Juventus one (his free transfer from the Red Devils still haunts the club's fans two years later), but I am convinced that we will see another Paul Pogba during this World Cup.
He may be only 21 and have just two proper professional seasons behind him, but it doesn't matter. He will storm out at the tournament by bossing the midfield and showing all his talent. For me, even if, obviously, he is still far from the end product and still has a lot to learn, he is already part of the best midfielders in the world. I don't believe any other current player in the world that age can do what he does. And in the same way, no one among the big stars could do what he does at 21. Patrick Vieira, for example, was not as good that early.
He is unique and he is probably the first name Didier Deschamps puts on the team sheet before each game. His starting XI place has never been in doubt since he broke onto the international scene against Georgia back in March 2013 (3-1 win). He has played a lot this season in Italy and with France, but Deschamps has managed him very well in the preparation and he looks very fit and ready. It has always been his dream to play in a real World Cup, not the U20 one he won so easily and with insolent talent last summer. He will be France's captain very soon, but before that he will dominate in this World Cup and take France all the way.
3. The pressure on other contenders
On one side, Brazil, the hosts and arch-favourites of the competition, will play in front of their football-mad fans who expect just one thing: winning the World Cup. On the other side, two other big favourites, Argentina and Spain, will also face big expectations, despite all eyes being on Brazil.
For Neymar and the rest of the team, the pressure will be too much. They carry so many hope and dreams. The whole nation still has in mind the 1950 World Cup and the curse of the Maracanã with the incredible 2-1 defeat against Uruguay in the last game of the competition. The Brazilians are trying to stay positive, but the squad is quite inexperienced and the whole situation will be overwhelming. Also, Neymar can't do it on his own but everybody in Brazil expects him to.
For the holders Spain, they could achieve an incredible quadruple, but for them too, the pressure will be intense. Between the expectations, the age and form of Xavi, the struggle that Diego Costa could have adapting to the way his "new" country plays, Vincente Del Bosque and his men will find it very difficult to cope with it all.
For Argentina, the dynamic is different. Back home, everybody sees it as their year. In the land of their bitter enemy, they can win a glorious World Cup. They have their strongest squad in ages. Sabella may have left Tevez at home, which was the right call, but the team is balanced and experienced. However, Messi will flop again. Just as he did in 2006 and 2010, he won't deliver when his team is relying on him, and Argentina will fail again.
4. France's desire of revenge
History will not repeat itself this time. It is certain. It is written. The scenario is pretty simple: France will finish top of group E and in the same time, Germany will do the same in group G.
After easily beating Russia in the round of last 16, Joachim Low's men will face France in the quarterfinals after Les Bleus' difficult victory against Nigeria in the last 16. In 1982 and even more in 1986, the Germans broke the hearts of a whole nation. The time for revenge has arrived. This time, it's France's neighbours who will go home before them.
In the semifinal, Deschamps and his men will likely face Italy, who will shock the world by knocking Brazil out of their World Cup in the quarterfinals. That will make it France vs. Italy in the semifinals -- the best enemies of world football. And like in 1998, this one will go all the way to the penalty shootout. Indeed, Deschamps and Prandelli will take no risks, will put out two very solid teams and after 120 minutes of not much action, Lloris and Buffon will decide on who will reach the final.
You obviously all remember the 2006 final, the Zidane headbutt and his red card during extra time, the Italians won after an incredibly tense penalty shootout. This time, the luck will turn. Balotelli, despite a good World Cup for Gli Azzurri so far, will miss the last penalty. And seconds later, Benzema will score the clinching penalty to send France to the final.
There, France will take revenge one more time, against Spain this time. Two years ago, in the 2012 Euros quarterfinals, Vicente Del Bosque and his players dominated us from start to finish in a 2-0 win on their way to winning the tournament. Back then, Pogba was not there and Matuidi didn't play. But this time, their energy and power will destroy Alonso, Xavi and Busquets in midfield and power Les Bleus toward victory. Pogba will score the only goal of the game, on a wonderful strike from 20 yards out that will go straight into Casillas' top corner.
And finally ...
5. Didier Deschamps
Didier Deschamps has a justified reputation in France: he is a winner. He always wins, or at least almost always.
As a player, he was part of the great Marseille and Juventus teams with whom he lifted European Cups, Ligue 1 and Serie A trophies. He was also captain of the even greater France team that won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 Euros. As a manager, he led Monaco to a league title, to a Champions League final, he brought Juventus back to Serie A and he transformed an average Marseille team into a domestic double winner (league and league cup). Now he is working his magic with France.
He took over from Laurent Blanc two years ago and changed the whole dynamic of the team.
It started with bringing in young players (Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba, Antonie Griezmann, Remy Cabella), then followed by boosting the confidence of Mathieu Valbuena and Benzema. The combination of those factors led to finding the right balance for the team in a 4-3-3 formation. And Deschamps has managed to unite the dressing room like never before, bringing back hope not only for the players but also for the fans. He is the real leader of this team, and his men have full faith in him. They almost all grew up watching him lift the World Cup. He knows how to win and that has earned the respect of his players. He will inspire them and will join Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo as the only men to have won the World Cup as player and manager in the history of the game.
Julian Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter @LaurensJulien.