Les Bleus’ climb to success will be an inspiration for generations to come.
There’s a saying that failure is a stepping stone to success and that without experiencing the sorrow of defeat, one cannot fully rejoice in the delight of victory. For France, failure came in its most embarrassing form, when the star-studded unit lost to a much inferior side in Portugal in the Euro 2016 final, something which brought a lot of criticism with it. But, if anything, that defeat served as a much-needed sense of motivation for this young squad and helped Les Bleus find ultimate redemption with the astonishing World Cup victory.
After that embarrassing loss to Portugal, France earned the tag of ‘chokers,’ with many predicting their fairy-tale story to come to an end quickly in the FIFA World Cup. However, not only did Les Bleus come into the tournament with an impressive track record after the Euros, but they also had a balanced squad with world-class stars all over the pitch. That said, it was ultimately Didier Deschamps’ ability to keep his high-flying players grounded and the introduction of some of the most interesting tactical changes throughout the tournament, that got them over the line.
Watch: France 4-2 Croatia highlights
France would not have the most graceful beginning to their World Cup campaign and after an underwhelming group stage, many started to discard them as the initial favorites they were. Les Bleus looked like an unorganized unit in the initial stages, with their main men in Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba struggling to light things up. But, the poor outing in the group stages seemed to be a masterstroke in itself by Deschamps, who took out any kind of complacency in his unit and filled them with the knowledge of how to win and play attractive football at the same time.
When it came to playing the wounded tigers in Argentina in the Round of 16, France looked a completely different side. After going 2-1 down in the 47th minute, they could see their World Cup dreams sinking and the tag of chokers coming back to haunt them. It was then that the stunning equalizer from young left-back Benjamin Pavard, who had only debuted a few months prior to the World Cup and played for a low-key side like FC Augsburg, revived France from doom. The Kylian Mbappe show would also kick-off from there, with the youngster scoring two very well-taken goals to take France to the quarterfinals.
But, Les Bleus saw the daunting challenge of Uruguay face them in the quarters and with many comparing Oscar Tabarez’s men to the 2006 Italian side, which downed France in the finale, it was a complicated job for them. However, they showed the admirable defensive strength of their own, with Raphael Varane’s terrific performance mixed with some aid from Lady Luck helping them to the final four.
In Belgium, France saw their most dangerous opposition yet with the Red Devils having defeated favorites Brazil and the attacking trio of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku having the ability to put anyone to the sword. But, Deschamps’ shrewd tactical display and organization of Les Bleus as a defensive side paid dividends, with Samuel Umtiti’s well-taken header being enough to help them qualify for their first World Cup final in 12 years.
Watch: The story Behind Croatia’s Incredible World Cup Run
Just as the European final, France went into the World Cup showpiece as overwhelming favorites. But, Les Bleus would not fall into the trap of complacency once again and showed extreme grit, playing out a thrilling contest against the Croats. However, it was their fantastic second half display which showed how ruthless France can be, with two brilliant goals from Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe sealing the second World Cup title for Les Bleus.
For Pogba, it’s a story of complete redemption as he came into the tournament with a lot of pressure. There was talk of him being replaced from the starting XI after a topsy-turvy season with Manchester United, with French fans themselves wanting him out. But, Deschamps’ faith in the strong midfielder paid dividends, as his terrific World Cup campaign was capped off with a final goal to be remembered for a long time. Another man to attain redemption was Griezmann, who was himself criticized heavily for failing to turn up in the Euro final.
Griezmann had a brilliant World Cup campaign and started to pick up form at the right point. His terrific performances in the knockout stages, which saw him show calmness in his game, scoring and creating many for Les Bleus, enabled him to get rid of the “choker” tag himself. For Mbappe, the equation was also daunting as many expected him to prove his talent at the World Cup.
Mbappe’s incredible speed, skill and goals in the World Cup proved that he’s here to stay for a long time and could be the “next big thing” in French football. Apart from these glittering three, Les Bleus were filled with superstars throughout the tournament. The ever-energetic N’Golo Kante’s rise from rags to riches was completed, while Raphael Varane further solidified his claim to becoming the most celebrated French centre-back of all-time at just 25.
The World Cup victory might be the highest point in any football nation’s history, but the Renaissance has only started for France. This achievement is the start of a revolution for the national team, who, with such a young and blooming squad will only get better in the future. Champions curse be damned. The French are here to stay and will continue to glitter football with their irresistible panache over the course of the decades to come.