PARIS, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Factbox on World Cup qualifiers
Form and prospects
France were always going to struggle to qualify directly,
being in the same Group I as Spain. They finished three points
behind the world champions, but scored more goals, and their
only defeat was 1-0 by Spain in Paris. They recovered pride by
drawing the return leg 1-1 in Madrid.
In the playoffs, Didier Deschamps' team lost the first leg
2-0 in Ukraine, triggering nationwide despondency. But France
recovered with panache to win the return leg 3-0.
Predicting how France will fare at the finals is tough
because Les Bleus have had vastly different levels of success
since their 1998 triumph on home soil.
They were eliminated in the first round of the 2002 World
Cup, finished runners-up in 2006 and were knocked out in the
first round in 2010 amid much off-pitch drama.
The team have improved under Deschamps with youngsters such
as Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba blooming.
Varane and Mamadou Sakho could form a decent central defence
behind a Yohan Cabaye-Pogba-Blaise Matuidi trident with Franck
Ribery leading the front three should Deschamps stick to a 4-3-3
France's weakness is the fullbacks, Patrice Evra or Gael
Clichy (left), and Mathieu Debuchy or Bacary Sagna (right),
being suspect defensively.
Deschamps also needs to unearth a killer striker with
Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema yet to prove themselves on a
Coach: Didier Deschamps
Deschamps was appointed when his former France team mate
Laurent Blanc declined to extend his contract after Les Bleus
were eliminated in the quarter-finals at Euro 2012.
The 45-year-old won the World Cup, a European Championship,
the Champions League and multiple national titles in a 16-year
playing career as 'water carrier', but also as team captain.
He brought this winning mentality to his coaching career,
leading Monaco to the 2004 Champions League final before helping
Juventus return to Serie A after a match-fixing scandal in 2007.
Deschamps, who deals well with pressure, led Olympique
Marseille to their first French league title in 18 years in
Key player: Franck Ribery
Ribery completed his return to grace this year after a
disastrous 2010 when he was France's inspiration in their
The Bayern Munich maestro, who also helped his club clinch a
Champions League-Bundesliga-German Cup treble, has scored six
and set up nine of France's last 27 goals.
In 2010, Ribery was involved in the French players' strike
at the World Cup, but he has since apologised and shown his best
form, shaking up defences with his dazzling runs.
"Ribery is a player capable of making the difference any
time," says Deschamps.
How they qualified: Runners-up Group I
Sept 7 Finland A W 1-0 Diaby
Sept 11 Belarus H W 3-1 Capoue, Jallet, Ribery
Oct 16 Spain A D 1-1 Giroud
March 22 Georgia H W 3-1 Giroud, Valbuena, Ribery
March 26 Spain H L 0-1
Sept 6 Georgia A D 0-0
Sept 10 Belarus A W 4-2 Ribery 2 (1pen), Nasri,
Sept 15 Finland H W 3-0 Ribery, own goal, Benzema
Nov 15 Ukraine A L 0-2
Nov 19 Ukraine H W 3-0 Sakho 2, Benzema
World Cup record:
Previous appearances 13 (1930, 1934, 1938, 1954, 1958, 1966,
1978, 1982, 1986, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010)
Best performance: Winners 1998
Odds: William Hill odds to win World Cup (Nov 2013): 33-1
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Robert Woodward)