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May 26, 2014

France depth to be tested vs. Norway

France manager Didier Deschamps will be keen to see how his team's fringe players perform against Norway.
France manager Didier Deschamps will be keen to see how his team's fringe players perform against Norway.
PARIS -- France are preparing for mission impossible this summer after coach Didier Deschamps claimed that his team need "a miracle" if they are to win the World Cup in Brazil. Les Bleus' first competitive game at the tournament -- Honduras in Porto Alegre on June 15 -- is still some ways away, but their first of three warm-up opponents begins Tuesday with a clash at Stade de France versus Norway.

With European champions Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane still to arrive at Clairefontaine after UEFA Champions League duty with Real Madrid, Deschamps does not yet have his full 23-man squad assembled. However, the Scandinavians provide the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship-winning captain with one of two chances to test out some of his fringe players before a dress rehearsal with his first-choice starting XI in the final friendly against Jamaica in Lille.

Deschamps revealed in his pre-match press conference at the French national team's training base outside of Paris that newly installed second-choice goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier -- who has been promoted from the seven-man reserve list after an injury to Steve Mandanda -- will start. Also confirmed to be in the initial XI is Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho, who is expected to captain the side. The 24-year-old will feel vindicated over his reasons for choosing to leave hometown club Paris Saint-Germain, having gone on to re-establish himself as a crucial part of his coach's plans at international level.

Also expected to feature prominently is Arsenal's Olivier Giroud, who will get a rare chance to impress in the absence of teammate Benzema. The Real Madrid man's position is not thought to be under threat, but concerns have been raised about his fitness following the 4-1 win over Atletico in Lisbon last Saturday. Los Blancos teammate Varane will also likely sit out the game before his first appearance at Clairefontiane the following day.

Elsewhere, Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery is expected to be rested, while in-demand Real Sociedad star Antoine Griezmann should continue in his place after an encouraging debut against the Netherlands in a 2-0 friendly win earlier this year. Mathieu Valbuena -- an ever present under Deschamps despite his disappointing domestic form with club side Olympique de Marseille -- will also likely start in the 4-3-3 formation that is quickly becoming the French "style de jeu" (style of play) at international level.

However, one area of the team that Deschamps will almost certainly not change for the encounter with Norway is the three-man midfield unit. Like another former World and European champion Laurent Blanc -- now coaching Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain -- the 45-year-old appears to have identified the blend of PSG's Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye along with Juventus' Paul Pogba as the strongest element of this current side. All three are expected to feature heavily for Les Bleus in Brazil and Deschamps will almost certainly take the chance to get them on the same wavelength ahead the tournament.

Otherwise, there is a chance for some of the other squad members and perhaps one or two of the reserves to impress and attempt to force the France tactician into a late change of heart regarding his 23-man group. Even if that is unlikely, Deschamps will be taking note mentally of those who impress him now and in Brazil ahead of preparations for the 2016 European Championships on home soil.

The likes of Southampton's Morgan Schneiderlin, Montpellier HSC's Remy Cabella and Olympique Lyonnais duo Maxime Gonalons and Alexandre Lacazette have all been included with one eye on the future, but could yet travel to Brazil as well. Question marks remain over Lyon midfielder Clement Grenier's fitness -- considering that he only featured three times in the final two months of the season because of injury -- and his place in the ultimate 23-man group could yet be up for grabs.

For now though, Deschamps will be happy to rotate and assess the options that he has available to him. Maintaining the momentum built up with the heroic 3-0 World Cup playoff second leg win over Ukraine and the 2-0 friendly win over the Netherlands is important, so expect to see little or no deviation from the 4-3-3 formation that has now found favour with Les Bleus' tactician. Instead, Deschamps will be keen to see that the controversy-free team that he has selected are capable of playing as a solid and coherent unit without a number of their main stars.