France reigned supreme at World Cup 2018, but with their title defence in Qatar just around the corner, can fans of Les Bleus harbour hope of partying in the streets again?
Own goal, Griezmann penalty, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe. France's 4-2 win over Croatia in Moscow ended an 18-year wait for major silverware.
But it seems that with every week crossed off the calendar in the build-up to the coming World Cup comes news of a fresh French injury concern.
The unquestionably elite Paul Pogba, hit-and-miss at times for Manchester United but historically dependable in his national team jersey, is already a major doubt for the finals tournament, but a knee injury to coach Didier Deschamps’ star man is merely the tip of the iceberg.
The accolades speak for themselves. Four consecutive Scudetti, a FIFA Golden Boy award, U20 World Cup glory – and Best Player award to boot – and of course the mantle of the world's most expensive footballer following his £89.3 million move from Juventus to Manchester United. Pogba's reputation has long preceded him, but if his goal in the 2018 World Cup final proved anything, it is that under the banner of his national team, the midfielder lives up to his billing.
The Parisian shone even in France's humbling Euro 2020 exit, whipping a wicked 25-yard strike past Yann Sommer in the last-16 encounter with Switzerland before Mbappe's miss from the spot saw Les Bleus dumped out on penalties.
But with worry reportedly rife in the French camp as Pogba races to recover from a torn meniscus, predicting the side's readiness to romp their way into the latter stages, as in Russia, is an impossible task.
The injury, picked up in July, has robbed Deschamps' main midfield figure of any match minutes so far this season, his last competitive action a nine-minute Manchester United cameo in the 4-0 loss to Liverpool back in April, prior to his return to current club Juventus.
Midfield comrades N'Golo Kante and Boubacar Kamara are confirmed absentees already – as is goalkeeper Mike Maignan – as Australia lie in wait on the evening of Tuesday 22nd November.
The sight of a tearful Raphael Varane leaving the field with a hamstring injury during Manchester United's draw with Chelsea brought a show of sympathy from many corners, and the announcement that scans a less serious problem than initially feared will have doubtlessly eased heartrates in Deschamps’ office.
But with Varane's latest injury absence expected to last three to four weeks, the danger is certainly not over; there are few substitutes for match fitness and a proper run of form when approaching a mid-season tournament.
What's more, Wesley Fofana, Ibrahima Konate and Lucas Hernandez are all currently out injured with less than a month remaining before the Qatar curtain raiser, with Presnel Kimpembe having only recently returned for PSG.
France are at to win Group D – also housing Denmark, Tunisia and opening opponents Australia – but glaring question marks remain around their ability to reach full strength with an injury-ravaged backline.
Les Bleus are massively odds-on to reach the knockout stages at 1/10, but their recent run with injuries will have many keeping their eyes on the price of a group-stage exit in the style of the dismal 2002 campaign. That year, France fell to the Danes in their opener and left the event without a goal to their name – a similar failure to make the second round in Qatar is priced at .
But let's be frank – it’s not all doom and gloom. Up the field, France's defensive doubts are offset by one of the world's most potent attacks.
Freshly adorned with the 2022 Ballon d'Or, the spellbinding Karim Benzema is at 12/1 to add the Golden Boot to a trophy cabinet that grows more crowded year on year, but the fact that the Real Madrid maestro is still at longer odds than teammate Mbappe – available at – is testament to the sheer depth of talent available to Deschamps.
But, in a cruel twist, even Benzema himself is said to be feeling the strain, suffering with muscular fatigue as the La Liga season winds towards its pause.
The talent in the French ranks is there for all to see, but with worries surrounding Benzema, Pogba and Varane just three reasons for concern, the jury is still out on whether France can repeat the glory of 2018.