Will France End the World Champions' Curse?

Liam Bewsher

Will France End the World Champions' Curse?

Typically, when each edition of the FIFA World Cup starts, the world champions are typically one of the favourites to win the next tournament, however, it often doesn’t go to plan, hence why in this article we are discussing the ‘World Cup Champions Curse’.

Only two sides, in general, have ever retained the World Cup, in the shapes of Italy and Brazil, with the former doing so in 1934 and 1938, whilst Brazil did in 1958 and 1962 with inspiration coming from the likes of Pele and Garrincha.

As far as World Cup winners go, the last world champions to make it out of the group stages was 2002 winners Brazil, as they reached the quarter-finals in 2006 where they were knocked out by France.

2006 winners Italy exited at the group stages in 2010. On top of this, 2010 champions Spain exited at the same point which includes their memorable 5-1 loss to the Netherlands, while 2014 winners Germany also crashed out at the group stages in 2018 in a group containing Sweden, Mexico and South Korea.

France themselves know all about the world champions curse, as they were famously knocked out at the group stages in 2002 after winning the World Cup for the first time in 1998, earning just one point in Group A of that tournament following 1-0 and 2-0 losses to Senegal and Denmark, whilst only managing a 0-0 draw with Uruguay.

France 1998 World Cup

2022 World Cup Odds

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FRANCE TO WIN THE 2022 WORLD CUP @ 13/2

France’s Impressive Start Against the Socceroos

On Tuesday night, France were perhaps one of the strongest performers on matchday one, as following a slightly nervy start that saw them concede to Adelaide United’s Craig Goodwin after just nine minutes, they brushed past Australia by a 4-1 scoreline.

Juventus midfielder Adrien Rabiot equalised in the 27th minute, before assisting striker Olivier Giroud in the 32nd minute, before the AC Milan forward added another with 18 minutes to go on either side of a Kylian Mbappe goal.

During this match, France created a total of 4.20 XG, which in context, is nearly double the amount that England created in their 6-2 thrashing of Iran, which was one of the most impressive victories in the tournament so far - Gareth Southgate’s side created 2.24 XG.

On top of this, France conceded just 0.59 XG, which is quite impressive considering the fact that they had Raphael Varane on the bench, while the likes of N’Golo Kante is missing the tournament as a whole due to injury. Staggeringly, only Saudi Arabia (vs Argentina 0.14 XG) and Qatar (vs Ecuador 0.35 XG) created fewer chances to score.

This is exactly the sort of start that France wanted if they are to break the world champions curse, as they sit at the top of Group D with a healthy goal difference, ahead of tough opponents such as Denmark following their 0-0 draw with Tunisia.

World Cup - Group Stage - Group DWorld Cup - Group Stage - Group D
PosClubPWDLGDPTS
1Position Icon
France badgeFrance
3201+36
2Position Icon
Australia badgeAustralia
3201-16
3Position Icon
Tunisia badgeTunisia
311104
4Position Icon
Denmark badgeDenmark
3012-21

How France Dealt With Key Absences

Deschamps opted to line-up Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate at centre-back for France while Varane recovers from a small hamstring tear.

This was a clever move, as Upamecano and Konate are both athletic defenders with a lot of pace and strong areal presences, while both being comfortable on the ball. To add to this, they have good chemistry, as they both played alongside each other while at German Bundesliga side RB Leipzig where they formed the best defence in the league during their final campaign there in 2020/21, conceding just 32 goals in 34 matches, 12 fewer than eventual champions Bayern Munich.

Dayot Upamecano Player Focus

On top of Varane’s absence, France will be without Kante and Paul Pogba at the World Cup in Qatar, many feared the worst when hearing this news, but, Rabiot and Aurelien Tchouameni provided a good balance to the French midfield.

Tchouameni is one of the most highly-rated defensive midfielders in world football, following his €80 million move from AS Monaco to European champions Real Madrid in the summer - a fee which could rise up to €100m.

The 22-year-old is used to filling in big boots, as at Real he has effectively replaced Casemiro, while in this France team, his progression to replace Kante has been unexpectedly accelerated due to the latter’s injury. As mentioned above, Rabiot was superb, scoring France’s equaliser before assisting Giroud’s first goal of the game.

France are perhaps the most injury-hit side at this tournament, with Ballon d’Or winning striker Karim Benzema missing the tournament - the first time since 1978 that the Ballon d’Or winner won’t feature at the World Cup. As well as this, highly-rated forward Christopher Nkunku of RB Leipzig picked up an injury in training just days before the competition and will have to watch from the sidelines.

Les Bleus' front four contained Antoine Griezmann as a second striker behind Olivier Giroud, while Kylian Mbappe lined up on the left-wing, reminiscent of the side Deschamps used when they won the World Cup in 2018. Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele started on the right-hand side.

To put it mildly, France’s advanced four caused havoc among the Australian defence, as despite winning the game by a 4-1 scoreline, Griezmann played six key passes, creating four big chances, while Giroud and Mbappe had a total of 1.72 and 1.26 XG created for them. Dembele also made one big chance, while Rabiot and attacking left-back Theo Hernandez also managed to make the same number of opportunities for their teammates.

Player Focus - Antoine Griezmann

2022 World Cup Specials

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BRAZIL, FRANCE, SPAIN, ARGENTINA AND ENGLAND EACH TO SCORE 9+ GOALS @ 15/2

Giroud for the Golden Boot?

At present, Giroud is among the top-scoring players at the 2022 World Cup with two goals in his opening match, the same as the likes of England’s Bukayo Saka, Iran’s Mehdi Taremi and Enner Valencia of Ecuador.

The 36-year-old has a major advantage over all three of the aforementioned players, as he plays as a striker, unlike Saka, while also lining up for a team that is expected to go deep into the competition - seeing him as a more favourable option than Taremi or Valencia.

Giroud is priced up at 7/1 to win the Golden Boot, these odds will only get shorter if he scores more in France’s group. Teammate Kylian Mbappe is the favourite at 9/2, but, we feel as though the ex-Arsenal and Chelsea man could be a good shout.

Olivier Giroud heatmap vs Australia

As the heat map provided by SofaScore shows, Giroud is a penalty box striker and provides France with the perfect balance, due to his aerial presence, on top of his creativity and occasional wondergoals, meaning that he is at times unpredictable. This allows him to bring other players into the game.

Giroud is France’s joint all-time top scorer with ex-Gunner Thierry Henry, as they both sit on 51 goals for their country. This is a remarkable feat and there is no doubt that Giroud will be going all out to break the record on the biggest stage of all, in what will likely be his last World Cup. Interestingly, Giroud has made eight fewer appearances than Henry managed for France.

With Denmark and Tunisia left to play in Group D, there is every chance that the man who inspired Montpellier to an unlikely Ligue 1 title in 2011/12 with 21 goals in 36 games could be on course to create more history. If Giroud is to win the Golden Boot, he’d be the first French striker to do so at the World Cup since Just Fontaine scored a staggering 13 goals in 1958.

2022 World Cup Odds

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OLIVIER GIROUD TO WIN THE GOLDEN BOOT @ 7/1