World Cup 2022: Can France Repeat?

France World Cup preview

Winning a World Cup is extremely difficult under normal circumstances. Winning the 2022 World Cup is going to be a Herculean task.

Defending champion France, which lifted the Jules Rimet trophy just four years — but seemingly an eternity — ago in Russia, has the prerequisites and pedigree to add another star to its crest, having won in 1998 and 2018 as well. There is world-class talent two deep at nearly every position on the pitch, a manager who has won the World Cup both as a player and on the touchline, and a blend of youth and veterans other nations would envy.

Yet, this is still France. Les Bleus are occasionally capable of reverting to being “les enfants terrible” if things go sideways among themselves. Then there is the enormous pressure of trying to be the first country to repeat as World Cup champion since Pelé powered Brazil to victory in 1958 and 1962 before he turned 22.

Furthermore, there is the mystery variable regarding the actual logistics of this tournament, being held in the winter for the first time, as desert country Qatar serves as host. With domestic and continental club play going practically right up to the first match between the host Qataris and Ecuador on Nov. 20, squad health and player availability takes on a more urgent form versus the traditional ramp-up for a summer World Cup.

There is plenty to ponder about France, which is the heavy favorite to not only win Group D over Denmark, Australia, and Tunisia, but to make a deep run in the Middle East. Legal sports wagering markets are showing plenty of respect to Didier Deschamps’ side, rating them as Europe’s best side and behind only Brazil when it comes to odds for winning it all. Whether Les Bleus can deliver is yet to be determined.

Spotty track record in new locales and key injuries

Papier salutaire, avec le recul nécessaire. Quelle incroyable affaire. Le passage sur la boutique adidas est dingue.

L’affaire Paul Pogba, un scénario digne d’un film de gangsters – via @lemondefr

— Louis P (@Louis__p__) October 21, 2022

Recent history has also shown that when the World Cup visits a new region of the globe for the first time, chaos engulfs the French side. It tried to defend its first title in 2002, when the 32-team tournament was held in Asia for the first time in Japan and South Korea, and crashed out of group play with just one point from its three matches.

When the World Cup ventured to the African continent for the first time in 2010, Les Bleus had a meltdown to rival any sports team of any era, with manager Raymond Domenech’s treatment of mercurial striker Nicolas Anelka in South Africa such a white-hot flashpoint that players refused to practice during what was an eventual unceremonious exit from group play.

In the run-up to Qatar, there has been plenty of uneven play. A spate of injuries left Deschamps with the headache of grooming younger players in UEFA Nations League play. France failed to reach the final four of Group A this summer, winning just one of six matches, but the gaffer may have gained some tactical nous from playing group opponent Denmark twice.

Some of those injuries will carry over into Qatar. Chelsea star N’golo Kante has been ruled out after undergoing hamstring surgery, leaving Deschamps without a tireless midfield engine capable of winning balls all over the pitch to trigger counterattacks.

Attacking Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, who ironically thrived in the same “water carrier” role in Russia that Deschamps made famous as a player in 1998, is trying to overcome a knee injury. Pogba, whose off-pitch exploits often garner as much attention as his on-pitch talents, is also currently embroiled in a multimillion-dollar extortion scandal involving his brother.

Injuries that have curtailed playing time for key members of the 2018 side could also weigh on Deschamps’ decisions in composing the final 26-man roster — expanded from the traditional 23 due to the unique circumstances of this World Cup. Defender Lucas Hernandez has been dealing with an adductor injury suffered in mid-September and only recently resumed running.

But, oh, that attacking talent

Karim Benzema in the 3 International tournaments he played for France as starter
• 3rd highest G+A in Worldcup 2014
• 3rd highest scorer in Euro 2020
• 3rd highest scorer in Nations League 21

Deschamps robbed 6 years, 1 Euro & 1 Worldcup off. Worldcup 2022 awaits!

— Ashish اشيش (@RMadridEngineer) October 21, 2022

France did not find its shooting boots in Russia until reaching the knockout round, where it rang up 11 goals in four victories, capped by its 4-2 triumph over Croatia in the final. That was Kylian Mbappe’s official coming out party, with the Paris-Saint Germain starlet giving a worthy but clearly exhausted opponent all sorts of fits with his pace. Mbappe finished with four goals while joining Pelé as the only teenagers to score in a World Cup final.

Mbappe, who is a +900 option at BetRivers, Barstool Sportsbook, and Caesars Sportsbook to win the Golden Boot as the top scorer at the World Cup, is in splendid form with 12 goals in 14 matches across all club competitions. But, like Pogba, controversy is dogging the 23-year-old — albeit in the more traditional tongue-wagging sense regarding a rumored move to Real Madrid.

The Spanish powerhouse is where Mbappe’s attacking teammate Karim Benzema currently plies his trade and scoring goals at a prolific rate. This World Cup, though, is something Benzema — who earlier this month became only the second player not named Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi to win the Ballon d’Or since 2008 as the top men’s player in the sport — has longed for since his controversial omission from the 2018 squad.

Benzema was alleged to have attempted to blackmail national teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape, which has cast a cloud over his selection for a good portion of his international career. (The case ended in 2021 with him being found guilty and given a one-year suspended sentence.) Deschamps did not tab the striker for either the 2016 Euros and 2018 World Cup in large part due to the controversy, and Benzema was missed to a degree in group play four years ago when Olivier Giroud struggled leading the line.

Nearing his 35th birthday, Benzema had 44 goals in 46 matches last season — 15 of them in Champions League — and has started fast with five goals in his first seven La Liga matches. He offers plenty of value as a Golden Boot option at +1400 at FanDuel, BetRivers, and Barstool.

Oddsmakers like Les Bleus across multiple markets

Every sportsbook lists France as the second or third choice to win the World Cup, with odds ranging from +550 at PointsBet and FanDuel to +650 on the Kambi platform powering BetRivers and Barstool. For those who think Les Bleus can play to form and lose in the final, that play can be had at +750 at those books.

At the very least, sportsbooks are pegging a semifinal appearance given the swing from reaching the quarterfinals goes from -223 at PointsBet to +150 there and at Caesars. There is a tight band for Les Bleus reaching the semifinals, with DraftKings and BetMGM headlining the +275 offering for that outcome.

Deschamps’ side is a heavy favorite to win Group D — the longest odds are -215 on Kambi and range to -275 at BetMGM. DraftKings is so far the only book brave enough to put a line on France making another group stage flameout, offering +600 for that occurrence.

Mbappe and Benzema are also being shortlisted for top goal-scorer at the World Cup, which is slightly different than the Golden Boot award because that involves tiebreaking criteria, including assists and minutes played. Odds, though, are similar to the Golden Boot, with Mbappe ranging from +750 to +900 and Benzema’s window +1000 to +1400.

Kambi and PointsBet are offering a market to pick France’s point total from group play, though the former offers significantly better value for the two key plays. Kambi is offering +220 for the maximum nine points compared to the Aussie-based book’s +140, and the expected finish of seven points — France getting two wins and a draw — has a +200 value at BetRivers and Barstool, compared to +130 at PointsBet.

PointsBet is offering even money (+100) for a 1-2 finish of France and Denmark in group play. Those considering this option need to be mindful of this specific order, because having the reverse in dual advance play is -225, since both sides are favorites to reach the knockout round.

Bon chance!

Photo: Tim Groothuis/USA TODAY

Author: Ryan Gonzales