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Jun 9, 2014

France's World Cup predictions

After four years of waiting, the time has come. Another World Cup is here, and our bloggers across all 32 competing countries have each predicted the fate that awaits their team. The country's Outlook gives a general view of its situation ahead of the tournament, while Pitfalls takes a look at any potential problems. Each blogger will also predict the top scorer and breakout star and suggest how far that nation can go.

OUTLOOKS

France arrive in Brazil for the World Cup in great shape after relatively smooth preparations. Apart from Franck Ribery and Clement Grenier's late withdrawals, Les Bleus have no major worries and coach Didier Deschamps has most of his original 23-man squad available to him. Following an 8-0 thumping of Jamaica in their final warm-up match, the French squad is ready for the tournament.

However, back-ups Remy Cabella and Morgan Schneiderlin have barely had time to bed in before departing Paris for Lille and then South America. Preparation has gone extremely well otherwise, with big wins over Norway and Jamaica, as well as a draw against Paraguay. The French are unbeaten since that heroic first leg playoff victory over Ukraine and have managed to maintain the momentum created by that result ahead of the tournament while also forging a strong team spirit.

PITFALLS

Ribery's non-participation through injury has understandably caused plenty of consternation in the French camp. However, those fears have been allayed somewhat by the rapid emergence of Real Sociedad's Antoine Griezmann as a genuine alternative. The 23-year-old arrived for the training camp with one cap to his name, but has added three more and scored his first three senior goals since.

The remaining concern for Deschamps will be France's occasional lack of clinical finishing. Les Bleus create plenty of chances in their relatively new 4-3-3 formation, but question marks remain over the ruthlessness of both Benzema and Arsenal's Olivier Giroud in front of goal -- despite looking insatiable against Jamaica. Come kick-off against Honduras in Porto Alegre, the French need key attackers to be brimming with confidence if they are to make a fast start to their Group E campaign.

STAR SCORER

Benzema looks the most likely to top score for France this summer. The 26-year-old is under considerable pressure to perform -- having disappointed in both European Championships that he has played in so far -- and the Real Madrid man is playing at his first World Cup. He does not want it to be his last, so knows that he has to start replicating his impressive club form and finally score a goal at an international tournament.

Originally the second most-capped player in Deschamps' squad, Benzema will now enter the World Cup as the most experienced member of the group (with 66 caps) after Ribery failed to make it to Brazil. Without the Bayern star, Benzema becomes the talisman of the team and the No. 10 knows that it is time to deliver. His sensational performance in the 8-0 rout of Jamaica suggests he is ready.

Didier Deschamps hopes to put France's dismal 2010 World Cup campaign in the past with a bright showing in Brazil.
Didier Deschamps hopes to put France's dismal 2010 World Cup campaign in the past with a bright showing in Brazil.

WILD CARD

Despite boasting the talents of Benzema, Paul Pogba and Hugo Lloris, France's key man under Deschamps is Olympique de Marseille's Mathieu Valbuena. The 29-year-old creative talent has not enjoyed the best of seasons at club level, but when he pulls on a France shirt he becomes a different player.

As evidenced by his hat trick of assists in the first warm-up match against Norway and another master class against Jamaica, Le Petit Velo (the Little Bicycle) is the main creator for Les Bleus and will be relied upon heavily in Brazil. A survivor from France's ill-fated South African sojourn in 2010, Valbuena will be keen to demonstrate his often-understated talents on the World Cup stage.

PREDICTION: Quarterfinals

Reaching the quarterfinals is a realistic aim for the French in South America, although it will be a question of taking one step at a time considering the failures of the past. Deschamps has picked a controversy-free 23-man group -- hence the early omission of Manchester City's Samir Nasri -- and the 45-year-old will be confident that Les Bleus will go a long way in Brazil if he can keep the ship steady.

With the 2016 European Championship being held on home soil, this summer's World Cup will be France's last chance to taste competitive action before they kick off the Euros as hosts. Winning a favourable Group E is expected and -- depending on the draw after that -- a place in the last eight is not an unrealistic target either. Should they achieve that, it would represent excellent progress ahead of 2016.