5 France players to watch at the World Cup
PARIS (AP) Several members of the France team that went on strike in training four years ago will be at the World Cup in Brazil, including mainstays Franck Ribery and Hugo Lloris.
But France coach Didier Deschamps has freshened up an aging squad and youngsters like 21-year-old Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba will be eager to make an impression on the world stage.
Karim Benzema, who was left out of the squad for the World Cup in South Africa four years ago, will get his chance to shine after a disappointing European Championship in 2012, and Blaise Matuidi has become a key player thanks to his boundless stamina and tenacious tackling.
Here are five players to watch:
After failing to score in the last two European Championships, and missing out on the 2010 World Cup, this is Karim Benzema's big chance to shine on the world stage.
In the space of a few months, he has gone from losing his form and confidence to becoming one of the most lethal strikers in Europe.
It has been some turnaround from Benzema, who lost his place in the France team to Olivier Giroud last year after a dismal run of 15 international games without a goal. Since the turn of the year, the 26-year-old Benzema has scored freely for Real Madrid and he even outshone Cristiano Ronaldo in the 4-3 loss to Barcelona on March 23, scoring two clinical goals.
When Benzema was struggling for form and goals, France turned to Franck Ribery.
Ribery's international career started brilliantly when, as an unknown, he was catapulted into the side that reached the 2006 World Cup final.
It was all downhill from there with a knee injury against Italy at Euro 2008 and a three-match ban from the French federation after the 2010 World Cup, when he was perceived to be one of the ringleaders of a training ground strike.
After two difficult years, the Bayern Munich winger got the fans firmly back on his side with some outstanding performances.
With more than 80 appearances and 16 goals, he remains France's most dangerous player.
Not many goalkeepers are international captains, especially not the silent ones. But, despite his mild-mannered demeanor and soft voice, Hugo Lloris has nonetheless imposed himself as a leader on the field through his faultless attitude and consistent performances.
The Tottenham goalkeeper has been firmly installed as France's No. 1 since the last World Cup and with 55 international appearances at the age of 27, he is set to win more than 100 caps for his country.
Quick off his line, solid in the air on corners and free kicks, and with exceptional reflexes as well as good feet, Lloris is a complete `keeper.
Defensive midfielder Blaise Matuidi is one of the most valuable members of the France team.
A tireless runner with tremendous stamina, he is also a tenacious tackler and a careful passer. He rarely does anything flashy, but his ability to keep things simple has proved invaluable for French champion Paris Saint-Germain and the national team over the past two seasons.
The 26-year-old Matuidi made only four appearances in two years under former France coach Laurent Blanc. He has already been picked 16 times by Didier Deschamps, France's former captain, who perhaps sees something of himself in the way Matuidi sacrifices himself for the team.
France coach Didier Deschamps gave Paul Pogba a huge vote of confidence when he thrust him into the starting lineup against world champion Spain in a crucial World Cup qualifier last March.
It was only the 21-year-old Pogba's second international appearance, but Deschamps thought he was ready to face the best midfield in the world.
Although Pogba got sent off for a clumsy foul on Xavi Hernandez, the experience served him well and he has not been out of the side since.
His graceful, athletic running, solid tackling and excellent passing are allied to a brilliant eye for goal. Pogba has scored some superb long-distance goals for Juventus and Deschamps is counting on him to show his attacking flair in Brazil.