France will go into the World Cup as holders, beating Croatia 4-2 in the final in 2018, their second world crown after also winning in 1998. But France will be trying to avoid the recent curse of World Cup winners. In four of the past five World Cups, the defending champions have been eliminated at the group stages, including France in 2002.
There’s still eight months to go until Qatar though and, for now, France will be focussing on building momentum and and testing a few players in friendlies before the Nations League returns in the summer. Last week they welcomed Ivory Coast to Marseille’s Stade Velodrome and had to come from behind against Les Éléphants after France-born Nicolas Pepe gave the visitors the lead. But goals from Olivier Giroud and Aurelien Tchouameni helped Didier Deschamps turn things around and extend their unbeaten run to 19 games since losing to Finland in a friendly in 2020.
Unfortunately for South Africa, the reason they are available for a friendly this month is because they failed to reach the final round of CAF qualifying for the World Cup. As one of the top 26 African teams, South Africa earned a bye to the second round of qualifying but were given a tough group alongside Ghana. And unlike UEFA, CAF qualifying offers just five places at the World Cup, meaning a lot of big teams miss out.
South Africa’s absence will be a painful one as they finished second in Group G on goals scored, having won four, drawn one and lost one of their six games – the defeat coming in the final match against group winners Ghana when a draw would have sent them through to the final stage – although still not guaranteed a spot at the World Cup. Instead, they took on Guinea in a friendly in Belgium last week, drawing 0-0, ahead of their trip to Lille on Tuesday.
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France vs South Africa: Match Stats
Olivier Giroud is a go kart apparently, compared to the Formula One cars of strikers, but he’s a top quality one at that. The 35-year-old has been enjoying himself at AC Milan since joining last summer, scoring 11 goals in 29 games across all competitions including eight in 1,357 Serie A minutes. Giroud has carried that form over to the French national team, and his equaliser against Ivory Coast on Friday was his 47th in total for Les Bleus, moving him just four behind Thierry Henry as France’s all-time top goalscorer.
France weren’t at their best against Ivory Coast and their players may not want to exert themselves too much and risk injury for their club sides, certainly not in a friendly. South Africa also haven’t been in good form and their recent matches have left fans feeling underwhelmed. Since the start of 2021, just four of South Africa’s 14 games have seen two or more goals scored.
22 June 2010 – France 1-2 South Africa – World Cup
7 October 2000 – South Africa 0-0 France – Friendly
12 June 1998 – France 3-0 South Africa – World Cup
11 October 1997 – France 2-1 South Africa – Friendly
South Africa fans will still fondly remember the 2010 World Cup when, as hosts, they beat France 2-1 to end their campaign on high – finishing above Les Bleus despite being knocked out. But that was Bafana Bafana’s only victory in four against France, losing two and drawing one.