There might be something in the water that FIFA World Cup stars are drinking, as France’s Franck Ribery has joined the injured list just days before the start of group play. Ribery and midfielder Clement Grenier were both ruled out for the tournament on Friday, leaving France floundering and Switzerland poised to take the top spot in Group E for the 2014 World Cup.
Ribery had been following an individualized training regimen and was participating in his first full training session with the team when he was forced to leave due to severe back pain. An MRI later “confirmed the severity,” according to Coach Didier Deschamps. Back problems have plagued Ribery for weeks, keeping him out of both club and international play since April 29. The 31 year old, who plays for Bundesliga Champions Bayern Munich, has 81 total caps for France and 16 goals. Ribery has been a force for the French side through qualifying, scoring five goals in four of their ten games.
In the same Friday training session, midfielder Clement Grenier was ruled out for the tournament due to a thigh injury. Grenier, who plays for Lyon, has five caps for the French international squad, and played most recently in a friendly against Paraguay in January that ended in a 1-1 draw.
Deschamps, who coached France to its 1998 World Cup Championship, has announced that 24-year-olds Rémy Cabella and Morgan Schneiderlin will replace Ribery and Grenier. Cabella plays for Montpellier and has just one appearance with the international side; Schneiderlin has never played for the World Cup team, though he has five caps with the U-20 squad. Deschamps selected Cabella and Schneiderlin because they are “the most in profile” with Ribery and Grenier, respectively. The coach conceded that the new additions were not exact “copies” of his lost star players, though, leaving fans wondering if the injuries to Ribery and Grenier will cost France the top spot in Group E for the 2014 World Cup.
France initially looked to be the heavy favorites, given that they are the only team in the group to have advanced past the round of 16 in the last five tournaments. Yet, after replacing Ribery and Grenier, France has the least experienced team by caps of the group. Switzerland and Ecuador have each put together a strong, experienced defensive side that the French could find difficult to crack without their top playmaker. Honduras, who plays France first in the tournament, has an average 26 more caps among its 23-man roster than the French side. Honduras has the oldest and most experienced team in Group E with over 1,000 combined caps.
Age and experience alone do not win games, but they can make a difference, especially on a stage as large as the World Cup Finals. France’s current side has half as many cumulative goals on the international stage as both Ecuador and Honduras. The forwards alone on the Honduras squad have 10 more goals than the entire French roster without Ribery and Grenier, over half of which are attributed to Carlo Costly.
France took a major hit on Friday with the losses of Ribery and Grenier, as the team is hoping to take the top spot in Group E and make their third appearance in the World Cup Championship Game. France will have one final dress rehearsal against Jamaica on Sunday to test out the new squad before they face Honduras on June 15.
Commentary by Christina Jones