France have the talent to win the World Cup; now they need the mentality
On one hand, it's probably not a bad thing that France isn't fully ready just yet, nine-and-a-half months before the start of the World Cup. It is never good to peak too soon before a major competition. For all the countries who will qualify for the World Cup, this 2017-18 season should be used to get stronger and stronger so they are ready when they get to Russia in June.
On the other hand, it was an embarrassing result. Drawing 0-0 at home with Luxemburg as Les Bleus did on Sunday, despite 34 shots on goal and 74 percent of the ball, is a fiasco, one of the biggest in French football history. Mathematically, it didn't mean much, as France remained top of Group A, a point clear of Sweden with two games to go. But it left a sour taste for everyone involved.
All in all, it was a very "French" week for France. Les Bleus were capable of utter brilliance when they destroyed the Netherlands 4-0 on Thursday in Paris. Then they followed it with real complacency and a lack of ideas in failing to beat Luxembourg on Sunday for the first time since 1914.
That's what this team currently is: inconsistent and too arrogant at times. They are super-talented, so they too often play "easy." Their confidence in their own ability draws out complacency. Arrogance is very much part of French culture, and we have seen many times the French taking matches for granted. Drawing 0-0 with the Luxembourgers was not an accident. In many ways, it was a similar week back in June when they took Sweden lightly in Stockholm and were beaten 2-1 before being up for revenge and battering England three days later in a friendly 3-2 win.
The risk with young players is always that they think they have made it before they actually have. For all the great wins against England or the Netherlands, you need to put in a shift against Luxembourg. It is part of a learning curve for Thomas Lemar, Kylian Mbappe, Djibril Sidibe, Kingsley Coman and the others. It is actually a good lesson to learn. It is also a good reminder for the more experienced players that they have to do more to lead this team when the pressure is off. They need to do more before and during the match to ensure that everyone is up for it. Instead, the leaders went missing, just like the youngsters.
This is a team that always seems to do better with their backs against the wall. That will be the case when they travel to Sofia to face Bulgaria for a decisive qualifier. They will be without Paul Pogba, which is a blow despite his frustrating recent performances, in which he seemed to play at 50 percent of his capability, like he didn't want to force his talent.
When the Bulgaria game comes, the pressure on Didier Deschamps will be huge. You have to question his choices against Luxembourg. He got it wrong in Sweden, where he picked the wrong players and made the wrong substitutions. He did the same again on Sunday.
Only three days after the win against the Dutch and so early in the season, he should have changed more than just one player (Mbappe for Coman). More changes would have brought more energy, new ideas and fresh legs. His three substitutions (Alexandre Lacazette, Coman and Nabil Fekir on for Olivier Giroud, Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann) didn't make much sense. Most worryingly, he didn't change anything tactically to try to make the difference. Deschamps is learning too, and those mistakes are part of his becoming a great coach.
As much as the players felt sorry on Sunday after the game, they were not devastated by their disappointing performance.
"I don't want to be too positive or too negative. I just want to be realistic," Hugo Lloris said. "We are still top of the group. We have the qualification in our own hands, and we will learn from this."
The French are adamant that they will rise in power through the season to be ready to compete for the title in Russia. Twenty years after the triumph of 1998, most of the current squad believe it is their destiny to be crowned again in 2018. They certainly have the talent for it. Now they need the right mentality as well.
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.