Former Germany defender Holger Badstuber believes arrogance could be the only thing to stop France from successfully defending their World Cup title in Qatar.
The reigning champions take on Poland in the last 16 on Sunday after finishing top of Group D.
They suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to Tunisia in their final group game, but manager Didier Deschamps fielded a second-strong side, with his team already guaranteed to progress.
“What makes the team generally unpredictable is its variability. It can stand deep, press high, play counter-attack or with possession. In the round of 16 against Poland, the role of favourite is clearly distributed,” he said.
“Things could only get difficult if the opponent outgrows itself and invests much more than France, especially on the defensive.
“The defeat against Tunisia in the last group game was no great tragedy. Of course, the performance was weak, but it was also accepted. Deschamps seems clear in his decisions and the players are experienced enough to assess the situation correctly.
“The coach did not want to expose his stars to any risk. They were already qualified, they gave key players a break. The batteries are now recharged and ready for the knockout round. The fans’ disappointment is understandable, but they do not need to fear.”
However, Badstuber added a word of warning.
“Despite the great respect for France’s potential, I also see a real danger. There is a fine line between natural confidence and arrogance,” he said.
“The team should have learned from the European Championship round of 16 against Switzerland. The loss was indicative of a team that has a lot of quality but is drifting in the wrong direction.
“The proof that France also has the ability to focus fully on success is yet to come in the game against Poland.”
France lost a string of key players to injury before and during the tournament, but their impressive strength in depth means they still have a fiercely competitive squad.
“The most important finding is that coach Deschamps has managed to compensate for the missing of stars like Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kanté, Karim Benzema and Lucas Hernández. That’s an indication of enormous strength and proves the fact that France has an extremely strong squad,” Badstuber said.
“If the first 14 to 16 players remain fully fit, this team will be hard to beat. The formation around Kylian Mbappé is functioning at 100 percent. They will be able to maintain this very high level.
“Olivier Giroud is in excellent form. In addition, Ousmane Dembélé, Antoine Griezmann, Mbappé and also Kingsley Coman guarantee pure danger. Importantly, with Aurelien Tchouaméni, Adrien Rabiot and also Edouard Camavinga, there is a central midfield that holds the position.
“Premium is also the defence line, especially in central defence with top-class players who have been playing at top level for years.
“Dayot Upamecano also fits in perfectly. I can understand if he is viewed critically in France, because he certainly doesn’t have the standing there of a Raphael Varane, Jules Koundé or Ibrahim Konaté. But he is doing very well.
“Also because, after a rather moderate first season at Bayern Munich, he has now gained more stability in Munich. He must now remain stable, play clear, stay focused against every opponent, that’s what the fans want to see. If he succeeds, he will play into the national team permanently.”
Benjamin Pavard (France), remplaçant face à la Tunisie.
Image credit: Getty Images
Badstuber, who spent eight years at Bayern Munich between 2009 and 2017 before a spell with Stuttgart, also touched on his former team-mate Benjamin Pavard.
Pavard came in for criticism for his performance in the opener against Australia, a game in which Les Bleus also lost Bayern defender Lucas Hernandez to an ACL injury.
“I feel differently about Benjamin Pavard’s situation. At Stuttgart, I got to know and appreciate him as a player and a person,” said Badstuber.
“Benji is now in a phase in which he has problems. His environment can also be decisive. My wish for him is that he quickly gets back on track and returns to his old strength.
“He should remember what he has achieved in the past, how many titles he has collected and how often he has been part of a successful team. He is and remains a very good player, this certainty should give him confidence. Soccer is so fast moving, he can fight his way back and possibly he will still get the opportunity to shine in this tournament. Fingers crossed.
“The same goes for Lucas Hernández. I know only too well from my own experience what such an injury means for a player. He has to go through this process of healing and rebuilding, which takes time. He has to take his time and be mentally ready for this challenge. It won’t be an easy few months for him, but he has a good environment at Bayern. He’ll make it.”
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