DOHA (AFP) – The inspirational leadership of Didier Deschamps and a deep pool of talent have turned France into the most formidable force in international football as they prepare to face Argentina in the World Cup final.
France arrived in Qatar aiming to defy the fate of many recent holders, even as a flood of injuries threatened to derail their title defence.
The reigning champions had been knocked out in the group stage in four of the past five tournaments, including France themselves in 2002.
But Deschamps’ side have, in his own words, “reversed the trend” and after beating Morocco 2-0 in the last four on Wednesday, they have the chance to make history in the final at Lusail Stadium.
No team have retained the trophy since Brazil in 1962, while no reigning champions had even made the final since the Brazilians in 1998.
That team lost in Paris to a France side captained by Deschamps, who has been there for almost all of his country’s finest moments at major tournaments over a generation.
After leading them to glory four years ago, he can become the first coach to win two World Cups since Italy’s Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s.
“Deschamps has been to three finals now, and he wins them,” French President Emmanuel Macron said after making a flying visit to Qatar for the semi-final.
“Things always come in threes. Didier Deschamps brings luck as well as talent, so we are going to win it and bring the trophy home.”
Win or lose against Argentina, France are going through a remarkable period of sustained success in international football that began with that World Cup triumph in 1998 and continued with their Euro 2000 win.
Deschamps was not involved as Les Bleus, with Zinedine Zidane as captain, reached the World Cup final again in 2006 and lost to Italy.
Now, as they look to make history in Doha, it is easy to forget France’s disastrous 2010 campaign and that they were not seen as contenders for major honours when Deschamps took over in 2012.
But he has now led them to three finals in four major tournaments, with Euro 2016 ending in an agonising extra-time loss to Portugal.
France also won the Nations League last year, and their last-16 exit at Euro 2020 looks like an anomaly.
They have now reached four World Cup finals in seven editions, putting themselves in the same bracket as multiple winners Germany, Italy and Brazil.
Deschamps’ management has been key, even though he played down his personal role after the win against Morocco.
“I’m not the most important,” he said. “It is about the French national team.”
Morocco’s French-born coach Walid Regragui summed up the reasons for France’s success.
“When you see what France have done over the last 20 years, they are the best footballing country in the world,” he said.
“I’m also proud because I grew up in France. They have the best players, the best coaches, and their national team are the best in the world.”
French clubs have turned developing and selling on young talent to neighbouring leagues into an art form, often to their own detriment when it comes to competing in Europe.
But the national team has benefitted.
The extraordinary Kylian Mbappe is the current symbol of Deschamps’ side, who are without the current Ballon d’Or winner, Karim Benzema, due to injury.
Only five of those who started for France in the 2018 final are likely to do so on Sunday, while Hugo Lloris, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud are the only survivors from Euro 2016.
But others, like 22-year-old Aurelien Tchouameni or even semi-final super-sub Randal Kolo Muani, have stepped up in Qatar and France are in a World Cup final again.
It is familiar territory for them these days.