Jamaica Gleaner

Tough for France to defend World Cup title

- Hubert Lawrence/ Gleaner Writer

IN ALL of World Cup history, only two countries have successful­ly defended the title, Italy and Brazil. Jamaican coach Xavier Gilbert doesn’t think France, the 2018 winners, will join them this year. Given the French injury list, Gilbert is guessing that coach Didier Deschamps may tweak his tactics, but even so, the Excelsior High and Jamaica coach believes Brazil and Argentina will be too strong.

Winners in both 1998 and 2018, France begin their title defence on November 22 against Australia, but Gilbert gave a clear prediction.

“I don’t see France defending the title at this point in time. I think Brazil, Argentina, they really do have good chances, and there’s a sense of belief in the Argentina camp once they won the Copa America, with Lionel Messi and what they have been doing in their recent last 10-11 games and 13 games,” Gilbert said.

The French will go into battle without two key members of the winning 2018 squad, midfielder­s Paul Pogba and N’golo Kante, who are both injured.

“Those are two key players I think they relied on. Their recent success, they have contribute­d significan­tly over the past couple of years,” he observed. “Let’s see, and sometimes what they probably do is change their tactics,” Gilbert forecast. “Their thing was to get the ball to the front three as quickly as possible,” he recalled, “by playing over the top and playing through the middle. That was one of their strategies to get it up in the attacking third as quickly as possible.”

Sadly, a leg injury has also eliminated Ballon D’or winner Karim Benzema.

In addition, key defender Raphael Varane of Manchester United has a hamstring injury. Asked about the classy 29-yearold on November 14, Deschamps reported, “He still has steps to take in the next few days.”

On the plus side for the French is a potent strike force. Up front, the Blues have the speedy Kylian Mbappe, who plays his football at Paris St Germain. In goal, Hugo Lloris will provide veteran leadership to a side seeking to match the 1934 and 1938 Italians and Brazil’s 1958 and 1962 squads by winning the World Cup back to back.

Brazil will be a huge obstacle to all teams at the World Cup, including France. Queried about the age and stage of Brazil’s central defender, Thiago Silva, Gilbert replied: “He is 38, but he’s 38 playing like a 28-year-old, and he’s still sharp. I myself was a little bit worried, but when I watched him over the last couple of Chelsea games, he has done tremendous­ly well against some speedy players. He was very smart in terms of what he did and how he approached things and how he approached the game, and I assume he used his experience.”

The Excelsior coach believes Brazil will manage Silva’s playing time.

“I don’t think he’s somebody who is going to play back-to-back games on a regular basis, but once they manage him, he’ll do fine,” Gilbert reasoned.

 ?? AP ?? France’s Karim Benzema is out of the tournament with an injury.
AP France’s Karim Benzema is out of the tournament with an injury.
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