SINGAPORE: As a member of France’s 1998 World Cup winning team, former defender Bixente Lizarazu knows first-hand his country’s failure to win the trophy for a consecutive time.
The closest the French got to the title since then was the 2006 final, where they lost against Italy. In France's quarter-final berth in 2014, they fell to a defeat against current champions Germany.
Appearing in Singapore recently to promote the Bundesliga, the Frenchman said that his countrymen currently have the best team in years to win the World Cup, which will begin in Russia in less than three months.
“I would say that France are among the (top) favourites alongside Germany, Spain and Brazil. I think they can at least reach the semi-finals,” said the former Bayern Munich star, in an interview with Channel NewsAsia.
“From then on ... anything can happen,” added the 48-year-old.
Although some key players like Manchester United star Paul Pogba have been in stuttering form of late, Lizarazu noted how the current team has a wide range of talents to choose from.
“Right now, there are some very good attackers like PSG’s Kylian Mbappe and Bayern’s Kingsley Coman, plus you also have Ousmane Dembele who is starting to find his way in Barcelona,” added the French legend. “The midfield is also very strong, as you have a great midfielders like Pogba and Chelsea’s N’golo Kante.”
The French national team lost to Columbia in a friendly on Saturday morning (Mar 24) in their first international fixture of the year, throwing away a two goal lead.
Lizarazu believes destiny is firmly in the hands of the current batch to seal their place in history come June.
“For me, it’s difficult to have a better memory than winning the World Cup in 1998,” he recalled. “It was a fantastic story, especially because we won it in France and everybody remembers what they were doing on that day.
“Until today, French people would come up to me to say thank you for winning the World Cup, and so it’s something incredible,” added Lizarazu.
“It’s possible for them to go all the way as they are young. They may not have the same experience as Germany, but they do indeed have good, promising talents,” he said.
DEFENDING THE TITLE
As the current champions, Germany will be aiming to win the title for the fifth time. They drew with Spain in a friendly match on Saturday.
Only two countries – Italy and Brazil – have secured consecutive World Cups, so history is against the current German team, according to former international Lars Ricken.
“It’s not often that a team can repeat winning a World Cup, and it will be a great motivation for them to repeat their victory from 2014,” said Ricken, who received the 2002 runners-up medal during his days playing with the international side.
Also in Singapore to promote the Bundesliga, the former German midfielder noted the strength in depth of the current team.
“I think we have a lot of experienced players and top young talents as well,” said the 41-year-old. “We’re not just the current World Cup winner but also we won the 2017 Confederations Cup with what was essentially a ‘B’ team.
“We won the Under-21 European Championships as well last summer, so it shows we have a good bunch of young, talented players to choose from,” added Ricken, who is confident that Germany will lift the World Cup this year. “We have an experienced coach in Joachim Low and I think we have a very good chance to win this year.”
However, the former Borussia Dortmund star is well aware of the threat posed by other countries as they bid to topple the current title holders. “I think the English team could be a threat, especially if they meet Germany in the quarter-final. But then they don’t have a good record against the Germans in penalty shoot-outs,” observed Ricken.
He also tipped Belgium as one of the teams to look out for in June. “The Belgians have a dangerous team as well,” said Ricken. “They are one of the favourites to win the tournament as they have a good mix of talented and experienced players.”
He added: “They have players that play in the best leagues in the world, and have excellent players in Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. I think they could even possibly win the World Cup for the first time in their history.”