Paul Pogba, Hugo Lloris and Antoine Griezmann headline France’s 2018 World Cup squad, but Anthony Martial and Alexandre Lacazette were among the 11 reserves announced by boss Didier Deschamps on Thursday.
Manchester United man Pogba, Tottenham goalkeeper and France captain Lloris, and Atletico Madrid’s Europa League final hero Griezmann are expected to provide the backbone of Les Bleus‘ challenge in Russia.
However Pogba’s United teammate, Martial, who won the last of his 18 senior caps when he started France’s 3-1 win over the World Cup hosts in St Petersburg in March, will only be called on if injury strikes Deschamps’ first choices for the forward roles.
Arsenal’s Lacazette, who scored both of France’s goals in their 2-2 draw with world champions Germany in November, finds himself in the same position.
— Equipe de France (@equipedefrance) May 17, 2018
“It’s always difficult. I was confronted with choices between a lot of players with a lot of quality. I know I can’t make all the players happy,” Deschamps said before announcing his 23-man squad on national television.
“Just as I did two and four years ago, I have made a list of 23 players for a major tournament to build a group that is best-suited to go as far as possible. There are some players who won’t play much or not at all, but they will be active, they’ll be important for the squad too.”
Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud are all but certain starters along with Griezmann. Lyon captain Nabil Fekir’s exceptional domestic season earns him a place along with fellow Ligue 1-based talents Florian Thauvin of Marseille and Thomas Lemar of Monaco.
There was no place for Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, who is preparing for the Champions League final but has not featured for Les Bleus since October 2015.
“I put the squad above everything, I have made choices for the good of the French national team,” Deschamps replied when asked about the forward’s absence.
One of the more surprising inclusions was Sevilla midfielder Steven Nzonzi.
“Why not him?” was Deschamps’ response to being asked why the 29-year-old, who has just two senior caps, was selected. “A team isn’t just about stars. He maybe isn’t a genius on the ball, but he’s very effective in his role.
“It’s also a question of competition for places in his role. He’s not young, but he has played well when I have used him and [he] has been very good with his club since.”
Though he has been injured for most of the season, Manchester City left-back Benjamin Mendy was also included in the 23-man selection as was Monaco’s Djbril Sidibe despite the right-back also suffering injury problems late last season.
With Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny ruled out of the tournament through injury, PSG youngster Presnel Kimpembe got the nod to be the squad’s fourth centre-back. Crystal Palace’s Mamadou Sakho, who has not played for France since 2016, and Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma were surprises on the reserve list.
Deschamps stated Marseille’s Dimitri Payet might even have been in his 23-man squad had he not aggravated a thigh injury in his club’s Europa League final defeat to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.
He added that the 11 reserves would be given a training programme to keep themselves in shape should they be called up, but that he would only work with his 23 first-choice players when they begin their World Cup preparations at their training centre at Clairefontaine just outside Paris next Wednesday.
“I have a little bit of a new situation that I didn’t have before the last Euro [European Championships]. I will have all the 23 bar Raphael Varane, who will be with Madrid, from next Wednesday. All the others will be there, and I really want to focus on quality work,” Deschamps explained.
“The reserves need to keep themselves ready if there is, unfortunately, a problem, but I really want those 23 players to be focussed on the World Cup.”
France start their group-stage campaign against Australia in Kazan on 16 June before playing their other Group C matches against Peru and Denmark.
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Alphonse Areola (Paris Saint-Germain)
Defenders: Djibril Sidibe (Monaco), Benjamin Pavard (Stuttgart), Adil Rami (Marseille), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City), Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid)
Midfielders: Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Blaise Matuidi (Juventus), Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich), N’Golo Kante (Chelsea), Steven Nzonzi (Sevilla)
Forwards: Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Olivier Giroud (Chelsea), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona), Florian Thauvin (Marseille), Thomas Lemar (Monaco), Nabil Fekir (Lyon)
Reserves: Mathieu Debuchy (Saint-Etienne), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham Hotspur), Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal), Wissam Ben Yedder (Sevilla), Lucas Digne (Barcelona), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Benoit Costil (Bordeaux), Adrien Rabiot (Paris Saint-Germain), Mamadou Sakho (Crystal Palace), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea)
Ian is ESPN’s French football correspondent. Twitter: @ian_holyman