France ponder World Cup without Ribery
PARIS -- France's worst fears were confirmed on Friday afternoon as Franck Ribery was forced to relinquish his place in Didier Deschamps' 23-man FIFA World Cup squad after failing to overcome a back problem. Following weeks of scrutiny over the Bayern Munich man's fitness since he arrived at Clairefontaine, the 31-year-old had to admit defeat in his battle to be fit for Brazil, and was joined by Olympique Lyonnais midfielder Clement Grenier.
- Report: Ribery ruled out of World Cup
- Report: Injured Grenier out of World Cup
Speculation had been rife once it emerged that Deschamps had recalled Montpellier HSC's Remy Cabella and Southampton's Morgan Schneiderlin, and it did not take long for the details to emerge.
In a bid to prove his fitness, Ribery had attempted to run during the morning and -- after initially being encouraged by his condition -- the staff pushed him to train more intensely. That is when the 81-times-capped player's back injury worsened, and it quickly became clear that there was no way he would be ready in time for next week.
"Franck had been feeling better," Deschamps revealed at a news conference. "The increase in intensity worsened the situation. This is a sad day, but we need to recover and prepare for the final friendly."
"The longer it went, the more we could see that it wasn't getting any better for him [Ribery]," teammate Yohan Cabaye elaborated. "We are a young squad and Ribery was our major player. But we have to deal with it, as we have no choice. The group still has quality."
Attention now turns to how France can replace their talismanic No. 7 in Brazil. Despite the obvious blow of losing a key player, though, the reaction inside the country has been surprisingly calm.
Early polls conducted by newspaper L'Equipe reveal that more than 50 percent of readers believe that Ribery's absence will not lessen the team's chances in South America. The same publication also reflected on "the black year" that the Bayern man has had to endure so far, after experiencing a drop in form since the start of 2014. This has been attributed to his failure to land the 2013 FIFA Ballon d'Or in some quarters.
However, another reason for France's muted reaction to the news of Ribery's forfeit is the rapid emergence of Real Sociedad's Antoine Griezmann as a potential key player for Deschamps' men.
The 23-year-old only made his senior debut for the French in March, but has impressed in the opening two warm-up matches ahead of the World Cup -- against Norway and Paraguay -- with many suggesting that the supremely gifted youngster will be more effective in South America than a half-fit Ribery would have been. Although Griezmann only has three appearances to his name at present, he has had a reinvigorating effect on the side and is a perfect replacement -- in terms of his position -- for Ribery in Deschamps' 4-3-3 formation.
The former Marseille man also burst onto the scene as a vibrant 23-year-old -- coincidentally with three senior caps to his name as well -- at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Ribery was one of Les Bleus' standout performers, and the retiring Zinedine Zidane labelled him "the jewel of French football." French fans are now hoping that Griezmann can have a similar impact this summer. Another cause for optimism is the return of Cabella to the France fold.
Despite club side Montpellier enduring a rather disappointing season overall, the 24-year-old creative talent enjoyed his most productive campaign to date -- scoring 14 times and providing five assists in 37 appearances -- outgrowing his surroundings with the 2011-12 Ligue 1 champions. His invention as well as the creative talents of Olympique de Marseille's Mathieu Valbuena means that Deschamps is not completely starved of creativity in Brazil.
However, the major concern that comes with Ribery's absence is that it takes away from the squad's already scarce collective experience.
With 10 World Cup appearances to his name, the 31-year-old has played one more match at this level than the rest of the entire squad combined. Also, at 81 caps he was by far the most experienced member of the group, and that burden now falls to Karim Benzema, who is still looking for a first goal at a major international tournament.
There is also the question of Ribery's international future, as he revealed recently that Brazil would be his last World Cup.
France are not short of talent, but -- despite his history of underperforming with Les Bleus -- Ribery is still one of the country's most gifted current players. Deschamps was counting on him to show talismanic qualities to inspire this relatively young group, and now the 45-year-old is deprived of his services, even as a possible super-sub, as former international Marcel Desailly suggested recently.
The stage is now set for Griezmann to now explode onto the international scene. Will he seize the chance if Deschamps decides he is ready?