2014 World Cup team preview: France

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Getting to know… France 

For a generation of viewers that came into their fandom around France’s 1998 World Cup triumph, Les Bleus will always be a world power. The recent reality, however, is less flattering. Since Zinedine Zidane’s retirement after Germany 2006, France has qualified for three major tournament but failed to make an impact at any. At Euro 2008 and South Africa 2010, France failed to advance out of its groups, while Euro 2012 saw Laurent Blanc’s team make a meek exit at the quarterfinals.

From an inability to replace icons (Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Thierry Henry) to off the field issues, there are a number of reasons why France has failed to live up to its global reputation. With an easy group draw in Brazil, however, head coach Didier Deschamps has a chance to send Les Bleus in a new direction.

Record in qualifying

France’s hopes of unseating Spain in Europe’s Group I were given a boost when Olivier Giroud’s 94th minute goal snared a point in Madrid with Les Bleus’ third (of eight) qualifiers. When France gave that point back with a 1-0 home loss to the world champions five months later, Deschamps’ team was destined to return to the playoffs.

Once there, a 2-0, first leg loss at Ukraine on Nov. 15 had France on the verge of missing the finals, but a switch in formation and personnel allowed Deschamps to turn the tide in Saint-Denis. First half goals from Mamadou Sahko and Karim Benzema had France even by the 34th minute, with a second half winner from Sahko putting the team through to its fifth consecutive World Cup.

What group are they in? 

Switzerland was the seeded team others wanted to draw. When Ecuador and Honduras joined Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side in Group E, it became one of the tournament’s easiest groups.

While France’s name value makes the nation the favorite in the eyes of some, that may not necessarily be the case. Regardless, this group will prove kinder than most France could have been drawn into.

Game schedule:

15 June, 15:00, Porto Alegre – France vs. Honduras

20 June, 16:00, Salvador – Switzerland vs. France

25 June, 16:00, Rio de Janeiro – Ecuador vs. France

Star player: Franck Ribéry

The reigning French Player of the Year, Ribéry’s one-on-one ability could prove lethal wide left of Les Bleus’s dangerous midfield. With Yohan Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi, and Paul Pogba in the middle, Deschamps has a threesome that could force opponents to dedicate numbers to the problem. The more room that creates for a winger who averages just under 14 goals per season with Bayern Munich, the longer France is likely to last in Brazil.

Manager: Didier Deschamps

Hired in the wake of Euro 2012, the former Juventus midfielder has slowly instilled some of his reputed steel into his national team. Part of that can be seen in the more robust 4-3-3 the coach has used after experimenting with 4-2-3-1 and various versions of a 4-4-2. Another symptom of that edge: Excluding one of the team’s most talented players, Samir Nasri, after the Manchester City midfielder’s displays is dissent. A former World Cup and European champion as a player, Deschamps is trying to lift France to the same heights as a coach.

Secret weapon: Blaise Matuidi

The extent to which any of France’s prospective starters is a secret is debatable, but still operating in the relative anonymity of Ligue 1, Matuidi’s virtues tend to be underappreciated. A strong, two-way, connecting force for Paris Saint-Germain, the 27-year-old could serve a similar role for Les Bleus, though his influence at either end of the pitch could prove just as important. With 15 goals over the last two years at PSG, the former Troyes and Saint-Etienne man continues to show his value going forward, while his ability to be a stalwart in front of the defense provides liberties to the talented Cabaye and Pogba.

Prediction: If Ecuador proves strong in a South American World Cup, there will be a three-way fight to get out of Group E. Else, whether France finishes ahead of Switzerland will depend on Les Bleus playing to their potential. Regardless, Deschamps’ team is expected to get to the knockout round.

Klopp: Liverpool supplied “angry, full of desire” performance

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Liverpool played a near-perfect contest in posting a stylish 4-1 win over West Ham United on Saturday at Anfield.

[ RECAP: Reds 4-1 West Ham ]

“It was intense, it was aggressive, it was angry, it was full of desire,” said manager Jurgen Klopp. “I saw everything I wish to see in a game of football and it’s not often you see that.”

The Reds went second thanks to goals from Emre Can, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane, conceding a lone goal courtesy of a Cheikhou Kouyate turnover of Can.

The result made Liverpool’s Spanish training camp look like genius, and put to bed fears that the Reds would not build off a 5-0 dismantling of Porto in the UEFA Champions League.

The win moves Liverpool into second place before Manchester United’s Sunday tilt with Chelsea. If the Red Devils fail to beat the Blues, Liverpool will finish the match week in second.

Here’s more from Klopp, from the BBC:

“I don’t think as a manager you can expect a game like this, you can hope for it but it’s very rare you get it. We got it. It was a joy to watch.

“The boys delivered, it makes me really happy. It helps us when we have time to train and prepare but we don’t often have the time. I saw a lot of things today we did in training which makes me happy.”

Klopp’s reference of preparation time is another sign that schedule congestion has not escaped the minds of the managers, and the Reds would not have had as much time off had they not been upset by West Brom in the FA Cup.

A visit from Newcastle is next, and the Reds can focus on the league because the following visit from Porto carries such a lopsided first leg score line.

West Brom 1-2 Huddersfield Town: Terriers climb

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  • Van la Parra gives Terriers lead
  • Mounie makes it 2-0
  • Dawson pullback not enough

Rajiv Van la Parra and Steve Mounie scored second half goals to boost Huddersfield Town four points clear of the drop zone with a 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Saturday.

Craig Dawson scored to give the Baggies hope of a comeback, but it was deflated and West Brom is now seven points back of safety with 10 matches to play.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

West Brom saw an early chance fall to Salomon Rondon, but the Venezuelan blazed over the bar.

Huddersfield were unlucky with a chance produced by Florent Hadergjonaj, as an Alex Pritchard shot caught a teammate in the face and the Terriers couldn’t clean up the loose ball.

Matt Phillips provided a typical fine cross to James McClean near the halftime whistle, but the Irish attacker belted it high.

Town took the lead after halftime, as Van la Parra’s mishit cross was rescued by Collin Quaner and sent into the goal by the same man who bungled the cross.

And Mounie made West Brom’s short-term and long-term fate look dim by putting down a second Town marker off an assist from club record signing Pritchard.

Hold on, though.

Dawson had an answer for the hosts off a Chris Brunt cross, and it was nearly level when Jonas Lossl denied Brunt late on.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Burnley 1-1 Southampton: Gabbiadini to the rescue

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  • Burnley without a PL win in 11
  • Saints with just one win in their last 15 games
  • Gabbiadini’s first goal in 17 games

Southampton struck late to grab a 1-1 draw against Burnley at Turf Moor on Saturday.

Ashley Barnes bundled home in the second half to give Burnley the lead but Sean Dyche‘s side succumbed to a predatory finish from Manolo Gabbiadini who jumped off the bench to grab a valuable point for Saints.

With the draw Burnley move on to 37 points and back up to seventh, while Southampton move out of the bottom three and have 27 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Saints had a decent chance on the break early on as Dusan Tadic, making his 150th appearance for the club, drilled a low effort towards the far corner which Nick Pope saved superbly.

Burnley were dangerous when crosses flew into the box but Saints had another chance to go ahead but Nathan Redmond‘s shot from outside the box was saved by Pope.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The home side improved drastically before half time as they pinned Southampton back but failed to really generate any clear-cut chances.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half the encounter continued to be a tight, tense affair as Ashley Barnes nodded wide and Southampton struggled to get going in attack.

Burnley took the lead as Barnes bundled home from close range following a cross from Aaron Lennon on the left which initially saw Alex McCarthy save well form Gudmundsson but then Southampton’s defense stood still and allowed Barnes to score.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Substitute Josh Sims then thought he had equalized as the youngster cut in, smashed on goal but Pope tipped the ball onto the post with a magnificent save.

In the 90th minute Saints did equalize as Burnley felt that referee Bobby Madley got in their way in the middle of the pitch, but Redmond found Sims who crossed from the right and Guido Carrillo nodded the ball down to Gabbiadini to swivel and smash home. 1-1.

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham: Reds run Irons ragged

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  • Can opens scoring, 30′
  • Reds build 3-0 lead
  • Antonio scores lone Irons goal
  • Liverpool goes second

Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah all scored second half goals as Liverpool went second with a 4-1 win over visiting West Ham United on Saturday.

Emre Can gave Liverpool the lead en route to a 3-0 start, before Michail Antonio answered for West Ham.

The Reds are a point ahead of Manchester United before the Red Devils play Chelsea on Sunday. West Ham is 13th, four points clear of the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Salah touched a Firmino pass past flat-footed James Collins, and his 15-yard shot was pushed off the far post by Adrian.

It was Marko Arnautovic chipped Loris Karius but not the cross bar as West Ham looked to answer the bell.

The breakthrough came before the half-hour mark, as Salah settled his blocked corner to help win a second. This time, it was Can heading home a back post offering to make it 1-0.

Arnautovic found even more danger before half, but Karius was there to get the job done.

Salah doubled the advantage in the 51st minute, shooting low past a flat-footed Adrian.

Can set up Liverpool’s third, playing a ball over the top for Firmino to push past a charging Begovic and slide into the goal. 3-0.

Cheikhou Kouyate picked Can’s pocket within minutes to play Antonio down the right for the Irons’ opener, but Mane settled the affair soon after the Liverpool concession.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]