France have won the World Cup just once (1998) in their rich soccer history, thus the current side which reached the 2018 final on Tuesday is 90 — or 120, perhaps — minutes from irrevocable glory.
And yet, it’s not only the possibility which lies ahead of them that has motivated and driven Didier Deschamps’ star-studded squad in Russia, but the not-so-distant memories of pain and heartbreak that, for two years, have resurfaced and reminded them every day spent on international duty: losing the 2016 European Championship final, on home soil.
Deschamps, a World Cup winner and 103-times-capped midfielder during his playing career, was in charge of Les Bleus two years ago — to the day — when Portugal triumphed at Stade de France. To hear him tell it, he appears to have used the disappointment of 2016 to keep the last remaining pre-tournament favorite motivated, while also downplaying what he helped to accomplish 20 years ago — quotes from the Guardian:
“I was there two years ago with my staff. It was so painful we really want to taste the victory tonight, because it’s got nothing to win the semi-final of the World Cup after losing the final of the Euro. It’s sport, we have this privilege to give happiness to the French people and the public.”
“You have to live in your own times. I never, never, never mention my own history. Some of them were not born but saw pictures. It belongs to a lot of French people that lived through it, but not the young generation. I’m here to write a new page in history, the most beautiful page. I’m not saying I’m not proud of what we did 20 years ago, nobody will be able to erase it, but we can’t look back and see what is in the rear-view mirror.”
France await the winner of the second semifinal between England and Croatia, and they’ll be fairly heavy favorites for Sunday’s final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow — the rare power to live up to expectations at this tournament — and far more familiar than their opponents with what’s to come before, during and after the final of a major tournament.