The next time Didier Deschamps sits in front of the press at the Doha Media Centre, it will be with a smile on his face and his grey hair drenched in champagne or a gaze into the distance, with a desire to be anywhere but there.
Whatever happens, he will be the man who took France to consecutive World Cup finals, something that has only been done by the very best. And the more I look at it, the more I see a reflection of Real Madrid’s triple-Champions League winning side in what Deschamps has created. They might not have the best squad player for player – they might, but it’s definitely up for debate; they don’t do anything particularly interesting on a tactical level; they are happy to sit back and ‘suffer’ during games. But most importantly, they win football matches. They know when to strike in the big moments, whipping off their thick-rimmed glasses before jumping into the phone-box and coming out head-to-toe in spandex. OK, maybe not quite like that, but you get the idea.
The squad comes into the final on the back of a mysterious virus that was quickly dubbed Camel Flu, before everyone realised that the symptoms were just a heavy cold. Centre backs Varane and Konaté – arguably the star player in France’s semi-final win over Morocco – have come down with the illness, adding to the already sick trio of Rabiot, Upamecano and Coman. “I’m not going to get involved with details regarding the virus, we have to live with it and manage it with the medical team”, said Deschamps in his pre-final press conference, [and] with regards to the virus from yesterday, the players are still sleeping so I can’t tell you.” France’s cards are against his chest: it is not known if the injured Theo Hernández or Aurelién Thouaméni are fit after they suffered injuries and missed training.
France’s squad, despite the injuries and illness, were in good spirits during training on Friday. FRANCK FIFEAFP
One player who is not *yet* affected by anything is Kylian Mbappé, who lit up the early stages of the tournament but has since allowed final rival Lionel Messi to take all the glory in the knockout rounds. Deschamps showed no signs of worry in front of the onlooking journalists pregame, insisting that his players, and Mbappé in particular, need not be fazed by the chance at making history, winning two consecutive World Cups for only the third time ever. “Mbappé needs calmness, serenity, he wants to focus on his performance and I don’t want to alter that calmness at this moment”, he said soothingly, like a fully-meditated monk.
France’s arrival at the final has been seen my many as boring, that the same team winning it again is akin to the gradual cementing of Europe’s biggest clubs into the top spots of the continental rankings. An argument made difficult given the fact that international football does not possess the one fundamental thing that league football has: the ability to buy players and hand-pick a squad. Nevertheless, as Gerard Piqué said about Barcelona’s squad in September 2021, it is what it is.
2018/2022 – France are the first nation to reach back-to-back World Cup finals since Brazil in 2002, and first European country to do so since Germany in 1990. Generation. pic.twitter.com/wWiJfKMq8r
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 14, 2022
The French people, those who identify with the nation and its incredibly successful generation of young football talent, are on the verge of being able to choose which World Cup win they enjoyed more, despite Deschamps saying he is unsure of the commitment of some of them towards the team compared to their rivals: Argentinians, all of their country [want them to win], even some French people want [Argentina] to win.
The result on Friday is a tough one to predict, and a suprise will be had either way whoever comes out on top. Deschamps, it appears, is content with that being the only unknown in the equation, effectively ruling out a sensational return for injured striker and current Ballon d’Or holder, Karim Benzema: [he] has been injured since the beginning, I’m not going to respond about invitations or injured players that could come.”
Finally, he sipped some of that serenity from Kylian’s cup of warm milk and ended the press conference in quite a relaxed, almost philosophical manner. “Tomorrow one of the teams will add a third star to their shirts. Good luck to everyone.”