France’s dark cloud
France head into Qatar 2022 as the FIFA World Cup defending champions thanks to their triumph in Russia 2018.
But the status of reigning champs has gone from making teams guaranteed favourites for the next edition to almost becoming a poisoned chalice of some sort.
The past three World Cup winners before France all failed to make it out of the group stages in the very next edition.
2006 winners, Italy finished bottom of their group in 2010, behind Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand.
Spain won in 2010 but were awful in the 2014 group stages where they crashed out after suffering devastating defeats to the Netherlands and Chile.
Germany won the World Cup in 2014 but finished bottom of a group that had Sweden, Mexico and South Korea in 2018.
This dark cloud hangs over France, especially with injuries to key players like Presnel Kimpembe, Ngolo Kante, Paul Pogba, Cristopher Nkunku and now Karim Benzema.
At least four of the aforementioned injury casualties would have been guaranteed starters in Qatar if they were fit but is there hope for Les Blues? How can they avoid becoming the fourth consecutive defending champions to suffer group-stage elimination?
The silver lining
Losing your starting centre forward who is also the current best player in the world is by no means a good thing but perhaps Didier Deschamps can make lemonade out of the very sour lemons he’s received in Qatar.
France won the 2018 World Cup in Russia for a number of reasons but their attack was probably the most important one.
The partnership between Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe was unexpected pre-tournament but proved to be beautiful.
Giroud failed to score a single goal in all seven games in Russia but his elite linkup and synergy with Mbappe worked well for France.
Benzema was not a part of the national team at the time but is now and his presence had threatened to break up the dynamic duo.
To be fair, Benzema is a better player than Giroud and France would exactly be suffering by pairing him with Mbappe but the attack is a lot more fluid with Giroud up front.
With Giroud starting, France can disguise their setup as a 4-3-3 with Mbappe on the left but in truth, they would be playing a 4-4-2 with both upfront and one of the three midfielders (usually Adrien Rabiot) drifting out to offer width on the left.
Didier Deschamps would be distraught to lose Benzema to injury just before the World Cup but he would also be lowkey relieved, a massive selection burden has been lifted off him.
Now he can play his favourite striking duo in Mbappe and Giroud without having to worry about how Benzema would fit in.
Even Mbappe has hinted in the past that he prefers playing with Giroud and he is about to get his wish.