France built to banish inconsistency
France's recent World Cup history suggests that a deep run could be on the cards this summer.
In 1998, 12 years after they last appeared at a World Cup, France won the trophy on home soil and spectacularly announced their return to the stage after a prolonged period of stagnation. Four years later -- after winning the 2000 European championship in neighbouring Belgium and the Netherlands -- they spectacularly capitulated in South Korea and Japan. Les Bleus finished bottom of their group and were sent home with the ignominy of failing to even score a goal as defending champions.
Four years later though, in 2006, they were back and reached the final in Germany. There they were beaten by Italy -- who took revenge for their defeat in the Euro 2000 final -- and Zinedine Zidane ended his richly decorated career in explosive fashion. Fast-forward four years from the last hurrah of a number of stars from the "Golden Generation" and the French imploded once again, exiting the 2010 edition at the first hurdle. That time they managed to score a goal though.
The point is that there is a pattern emerging. Every four years since France ended their World Cup exile by hosting and winning the 1998 edition, Les Tricolores lurch between immense success and incredible failure. It is either all or nothing and, when the French underperform, they tend to do it spectacularly.
Already they are impressing this time around, but for positive reasons. In their opening two Group E matches, they have scored eight goals -- putting five past predicted top-spot rivals Switzerland -- and are poised to progress to the last 16 with three wins from three if they can dispose of Ecuador at the Maracana on Wednesday.
If previous form is any indicator, this summer's campaign is shaping up to be another that goes the distance.
Having only just qualified by the skin of their teeth -- a 3-2 aggregate victory over Ukraine in the most dramatic of circumstances -- Les Bleus have been surfing the crest of a wave of optimism ever since. That surge has gathered momentum and is now the size of a tidal wave, with the French sweeping aside anything and anyone put in front of them.
Now, in the best form they have experienced under coach Didier Deschamps' leadership, this young and relatively inexperienced French side is looking capable of continuing its consistent form. Few others have been able to do that so far in Brazil and this summer's tournament has turned into one of the most unpredictable editions in recent memory.
That has suited France perfectly, enabling them to sneak in relatively undetected and announce their return to the stage in spectacular style after such an appalling showing in South Africa four years ago. With their momentum building all the time and their unity and the convivial atmosphere within the squad taking many by surprise in South America, Les Tricolores look set for another deep run toward another World Cup final.
Of course, reaching the final is perhaps a little too optimistic for this current French side and a quarterfinal or semifinal berth would appear to be far more realistic. However, the fact that they look like they might already be capable of making it all the way bodes well for the future.
Expect the likes of the reinvigorated Karim Benzema and upcoming talents such as Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Raphael Varane to be ready to challenge for their first international trophy in the 2016 European championship on home soil. Once they do that, the potential is there for them to go on and establish an international footballing dynasty similar to the Spanish reign that we recently saw come to an end in Brazil.
However, they are some way off of that just yet.
The early signs are good for the French in South America, and if they can continue their superlative form into the latter stages, especially considering how unpredictable this World Cup has proved to be so far, anything could happen. Not that much is expected of them and that freedom from heady expectations has empowered the team.
Will history repeat itself and see Les Bleus make it all the way to the final, or will Deschamps' men see their momentum finally stall? Either way, France appear to have well and truly drawn a line under the problems of the past and this could be a team that bucks the trend in recent history and starts to put in consistent performances at consecutive major international tournaments.
Jonathan Johnson is based in Paris and the voice of PSG TV. He also writes for French Football Weekly. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.