France have begun their World Cup campaign much in the fashion which would be expected of a team brimming with potential, but lacking in experience.
Didier Deschamps’ side scraped a 2-1 win in their Group C opener against Australia in a game which, in truth, the French should have won with much more ease.
That was followed by another narrow success with a 1-0 win over Peru on Thursday in their second match. The victory was enough to secure France's place in the knockout stages of the competition, but was further evidence that the French are still struggling to set the stage alight.
Kylian Mbappe hit the winner on match day two in Group C, as Didier Deschamps' side largely overpowered and outclassed the Peruvians, but once again struggled to stamp a commanding authority on the scoreline. France missed a host of chances and Peru fought back.
It was an impressive showing of resolve from the South Americans, with Andre Carillo even being handed man of the match, and France perhaps enjoyed the good fortune which tends to favour the higher quality side.
It is not a new trend in the French national setup. Once again, France headed into this summer’s tournament with a great deal of expectation on their shoulders.
Boasting a squad which bursts with star quality, they have struggled to push on since their Euro 2016 final defeat.
Against an unfancied Portugal side, France failed to to seal a European Championship triumph which would have fairly reflected the quality of their latest golden generation.
A lack of experience in top international competition cost the French almost two years ago in that tournament which they hosted.
With established superstars such as Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Hugo Lloris forming the spine of the team, it appeared that the French were well equipped to steal the show in their homeland.
Ultimately, their quality was enough to take them all the way. Almost.
In the showpiece event in Paris, their ability was clear, as was their lack of experience and winning knowhow at the highest level of international football.
Portugal, meanwhile, boasted a host of veteran seniors with abundances of experience and expertise in getting the job done, not least in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe, at centre forward and centre half respectively. The pair epitomised the grizzled ruthlessness and serial winning mentality which ultimately overcame the superior quality of the French.
It was the bitterest taste of defeat for Didier Deschamps’ men, with the sense of a missed opportunity the understatement of the century, at least in French memory.
France ultimately lacked the killer instinct that comes with experience on that occasion. With those events surely still firmly in the memory, it is perhaps an added burden to the French players to overcome that disappointment and come out fighting this summer.
Whilst the pressure and demands of winning the European Championship on home soil may have proved to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks in France’s ultimate failure to capitalise on their golden chance two summers ago, the psychological damage done by those shortcomings may yet prove to be another hurdle for Deschamps’ side in Russia.
It is, however, the kind of learning curve that all great teams use to their advantage. Pain in defeat can always be used as fuel to recharge, become mentally stronger and further motivate the desire to win which is ingrained in any and all professional footballers.
In France’s case, it is the seasoning of experience which was needed to mentally support the raw and exciting qualities of their young side. They must now use it as such.
Deschamps’ side have now been there and done it. Most impressively of all the notches on the French belt in this period was a 2-0 triumph over Germany, the current world champions, against the odds to progress from the semi finals at the Euros en route to the 2016 final.
It was all the evidence required to prove that France have the quality to stand toe-to-toe with the world’s best. No level of opposition which can come before them in Russia this summer is too high or mighty for the French to overcome.
Perhaps their toughest opponents will be themselves.
The likes of Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Thomas Lemar have sinced emerged as budding stars to supplement the established superstars, namely Griezmann, Pogba and Rapahel Varane.
The core of the Euros squad remains, with the run to the final and the experience that goes with it very much ingrained in the side. However, a number of the veterans and under-performers in the 2016 squad have now been succeeded by a new batch of exciting talent which promises greater hope of success, both now and in the long-term.
Patrice Evra, Yohan Cabaye, Dimitri Payet, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Morgan Schneiderlin and Moussa Sissoko have been pushed aside by Deschamps. The likes of Mbappe, Dembele, Lemar, and Corentin Tolisso have emerged in their place.
The squad has a fresher dynamic this time around, with great potential and star quality at every turn. To a man, Deschamps’ side now appears as one of the strongest at this summer’s tournament.
Whilst the likes of Argentina and old foes Portugal will be largely dependent on Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo respectively, France have a star in every area of the pitch.
The term ‘golden generation’ has been used to describe many great sides of many nations in the past, but for France, this is certainly the strongest set of options that has been at their disposal since the World Cup ’98 and Euro 2000 side of which Deschamps was team captain.
Now manager of the latest crop of French superstars, Deschamps the coach will be hoping that the benefit of experience and the blessing of true star quality will enable him to lead his country to overdue World Cup glory once again, just as he did on the pitch 20 years ago.
Now is the time for the French to stand and deliver once more.