Matt Jones delves into the archives and picks his France Combined XI from the 1998 and 2018 World Cups
Back in 1998, Croatia’s golden generation glistened on their tournament bow but were beaten by France 2-1 on their way to lifting a maiden World Cup title.
There were some fabulous players on both sides of the ball in that 1998 last four showdown, and the 2018 vintages also boast some of modern football’s finest.
For France 20 years ago there was Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry. On Sunday, Didier Deschamps – himself the captain in that 1998 triumph – can pick the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.
But who would you select if you had to merge the two sides? Here, we pick our combined France XI from the 1998 and current teams.
FRANCE COMBINED XI (4-3-1-2)
GK – HUGO LLORIS (C)
Has had a few shaky moments during the tournament after a less than stellar season with Spurs, flapping at a few crosses, but he has been called upon on several occasions to save France – his stunning reflex save to deny Toby Alderweireld in the semi-final one of several highlights and arguably the save of the tournament.
RB – LILIAN THURAM
Only ever scored two goals in his 142-cap career, but both came in the same game as Croatia finally woke up from their dream debut and crashed out at the semi-final stage, with Thuram’s brace earning Les Bleus passage to the final with a 2-1 paving the way to glory.
Switched to right-back for the tournament and helped form a formidable French backbone in defence that conceded only two goals in seven matches. His exploits earned him the FIFA Bronze Ball, the third best player at the tournament, behind Ronaldo and Davor Suker.
CB – RAPHAEL VARANE
He and Samuel Umtiti can follow Marcel Desailly and Laurent Blanc into the history books and join the ranks of French football folklore should they emulate the stoic centre-back pairing that provided the bedrock for glory 20 years ago.
Has his detractors but has been really reliable in Russia, leading France in clearances (6.5) and aerials won (4) per game.
CB – MARCEL DESAILLY
A serial winner who lifted two Champions Leagues and two Serie A titles at club level before forming a crucial part of the first French side to lift a World Cup.
Blessed with being an incredible athlete, Desailly combined this with his warrior-like work ethic and attitude – even though he was admonished for being sent off in the final as France triumphed.
LB – BIXENTE LIZARAZU
A marauding left-back who married flair with a fierce competitive streak, he was regarded as one of the best players ever in his position, even if he was essentially ahead of his time.
One of France’s most decorated footballers, adding the European Championship title in 2000, while he won the Champions League and six Bundesliga crowns with Bayern Munich. After retiring in 2006 he continued raking in the honours – he won a European jiu-jitsu title in 2009.
CM – PAUL POGBA
Came into the tournament with plenty to prove having endured a torrid club season with Manchester United, but has been a commanding and creative presence – his eight key passes are joint second for France.
His defensive diligence, meanwhile – nine tackles is fifth while only Varane has won more aerial duels (19) – has seen him shine all round in Deschamps’ defence-first approach.
CM – N’GOLO KANTE
Relentless energy has run opponents ragged at this World Cup – he has covered the third most metres and played 64 and eight minutes less than Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic ahead of him respectively.
Has been the steel to Paul Pogba’s silk in Les Bleus’ midfield and his performance in the final will surely dictate the tone, and outcome, of this pivotal encounter.
CM – BLAISE MATUIDI
Energetic and unselfish outings have underpinned this efficient rather than effervescent French final run. Now 31 and having moved to Juventus having been pushed out the door at PSG, yet has not looked a step off in Russia – often playing out of position too.
He was excellent in an alien left wing forward role in the semi-final dissection of Belgium – his incessant stamina and suffocation of opponents’ possession helping France suck the life out of games.
AM – ZINEDINE ZIDANE
The French phenom is the first name on the teamsheet, though this was far from his tournament, despite the fact the Marseille magician conjured two goals in the final as favourites Brazil were swept away at the Stade de France.
His tournament prior to that had been highlighted by his red card for a stamp on Saudi Arabia’s Fuad Amin in the group stage and he was subdued in both the quarter-final and semi before bursting back to life against Brazil. But we defy you to leave him out of any combined XI.
ST – KYLIAN MBAPPE
Has ushered in what could prove to be a changing of the guard as giants of the game Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi exited early on with some excellent displays.
France have been nearly flawless and even when they were challenged in a brilliant last 16 clash against Messi and Co, Mbappe’s brilliance and four-minute brace helped turned the tide back in Les Bleus’ favour. A Golden Ball contender.
ST – ANTOINE GRIEZMANN
Hasn’t been at his blistering goalscoring best – his three goals have come via two penalties and a fortuitous effort from range against Uruguay that Fernando Muslera won’t ever forget – but he has grown into the tournament.
His off the ball play, meanwhile, has been sublime, as he’s allowed Mbappe to rampage through defences while he roams and links play between attack and midfield.