France and Didier Deschamps poised for date with history and chance at immortal status

Les Bleus can become the third team in history to win back-to-back World Cups if they defeat Argentina on Sunday

Jack Rathborn
Assistant sports editor
Friday 16 December 2022 08:55 GMT
World Cup: France battle past Morocco to set up thrilling final against Argentina

France stand on the brink of securing immortal status in the game with back-to-back World Cup titles now just one match away.

Hidden behind the glitz and glamour of Brazil, who soon dimmed in the knock-out stages, and Lionel Messi’s enthralling path towards what many believe is destiny with Argentina, France have instead carefully plotted their way through to the final in Qatar.

One of the pre-tournament heavyweights unquestionably, this is not a fairytale, with Les Bleus more Tyson Fury against Wladimir Klitschko than Mike Tyson at his most ferocious.

They possess the knockout blow too, in the form of Kylian Mbappe, yet even when the PSG superstar has cooled off, Didier Deschamps’ side have found a way against both England and Morocco. And while there was the odd fright along the way, France have never truly been on the brink.

But for all the mystique surrounding style, France are still loyal to substance, which could see them become just the third team in World Cup history to defend the title after Italy in 1938 and then Brazil in 1962.

Antoine Griezmann epitomised this mindset just minutes after their most recent triumph against Morocco: “We will get back to work tomorrow, focused on it [the final], how we can hurt them, how we can defend against them. We will be well prepared.”

And perhaps that is Deschamps’ overriding legacy here, this slick operation, almost machine-like with their superstars buying in and enviable depth to cope with setbacks that would sink any other nation.

The French absorbed numerous blows in the build-up and even during the tournament as fate discarded champions such as Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Presnel Kimpembe and Karim Benzema, plus a dangerous wildcard in Christopher Nkunku. Even Lucas Hernandez’s World Cup was cruelly taken within 13 minutes of the opener against Australia.

Didier Deschamps, Head Coach of France, celebrates with the team (Getty Images)

But Deschamps is the ultimate succession man, reshuffling the deck and retaining momentum, save for a brief blip against Tunisia after already clinching a knock-out berth. France have thrived under the ‘next man up’ mentality adopted in the United States in each NFL lockerroom.

Should France defeat Argentina, then maybe Deschamps will allow himself to revel a little in his own glory.

As the Selecao were led by two tacticians (Vicente Feola in 1958 and Aymore Moreira in 1962) across their back-to-back triumphs, making Vittorio Pozzo, an tactical innovator with the 4-3-3 system during the thirties, the only previous manager to defend the title, with Deschamps eager to establish the most exclusive of clubs.

Now famed for his run with Les Bleus, Deschamps is not merely an international specialist either and can harness his wealth of experience to great effect against Lionel Scaloni.

The 54-year-old took Monaco to their first Champions League final in 2004 before admirably returning to Turin, where he truly became a star as a player, to lead Juventus. The Old Lady were on their knees at the time after the Calciopoli scandal, but Deschamps guided them back to Serie A as champions in Serie B before walking off into the sunset.

Didier Deschamps, Head Coach of France, looks on during the World Cup semi-final against Morocco (Getty Images)

Even before kick-off on Sunday, France’s title defence to this point alone emboldens them when stacked up against past champions in the modern era. Italy, Spain and Germany all succumbed to the ‘curse’ of the champions in humiliating fashion in the group stages of the very next Mundial.

But despite arguably greater longevity at the pinnacle of the game, France’s legacy is perhaps weaker, for now. Certainly when compared to Spain and Germany, who redefined and reimagined the modern game through tiki-taka and gegenpressing.

If Deschamps’ approach is less inspiring than previous managers to reign over the global game, he has at least extracted the very best from one of the most fertile football grounds the world has ever seen. France have leveraged their immense resources and talent factories in Paris and beyond, harvesting young talent and fulfilling their potential.

Deschamps might not be a pioneer or inspire an expansive coaching tree, but he has implemented a stunning structure for Les Bleus to operate under. Deschamps’ work in Qatar is evidence of his steely determination, in addition to the harmony in a once volatile camp, amid a collection of big personalities and egos.

France players celebrate after the team’s victory over Morocco (Getty Images)

France, of course, know how to spoil a date with history, having denied Brazil a second famous title defence at the Stade de France 24 years ago amid murky circumstances surrounding Ronaldo’s involvement that day.

If France can keep their nerve to resist the magic of Messi, a third title in seven editions will likely be theirs and unquestionably the most dominant force in modern international football.

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