PARIS (AP) — France remains a "formidable" team that higher-ranked opponents will want to avoid in next month's World Cup playoffs, captain Hugo Lloris said Monday.
Although France still has a mathematical chance of qualifying automatically for the 2014 World Cup, it needs to thrash Finland at home on Tuesday and then rely on the unlikely prospect of Spain losing their final game at home to Georgia.
Having seen its FIFA ranking tumble down to 25th, France will likely be unseeded in the playoff draw and come up against a strong team, such as Portugal or Sweden. France beat Ireland in the playoffs four years ago.
"All the seeded teams have their own qualities but I still think France is a formidable team and no one wants to play us," Lloris said Monday. "Of course Portugal are among the big teams and Sweden are strong and have a great player (Zlatan Ibrahimovic)."
France has struggled for consistency since Didier Deschamps took charge after last year's European Championship, but has found its attacking verve with 10 goals in two games — including a 6-0 thrashing of Australia on Friday.
France's ranking is a fair reflection of the team's overall slide since the 2006 World Cup — the last time it reached a major final. "It shows the work that we still have to do. France should be a seeded team. We have a lot of history, experience," Lloris said. "It's a bit of a handicap, but unfortunately we have to put up with that. It means we should work harder and the players must surpass themselves."
Another win against Finland, and more of the attacking flair shown against Australia, will send France into the playoffs on a high. "We're trying to create a positive dynamic and we had a very good result on Friday, where we scored a lot of goals," Lloris said." We showed a lot of initiative, played high up and played with a lot of freedom. When we play like that we can cause problems for other teams."
Since striker Olivier Giroud replaced Karim Benzema, the team has played with a sharper focus. Giroud scored twice against Australia and his ability to hold the ball up or lay it off, combined with his excellent touch, make him easier to find than Benzema, who tends to drift wide when he is not getting on the ball and has also lost confidence recently.
Deschamps hinted that Giroud has now established himself as the first choice. "You don't need to ask me the question because he's started the last two games and has played more than Karim," Deschamps said. "Yes, we'll play with one center-forward. I think that's the system where we're strongest. It's easier when you play high up and win the ball in your opponent's camp. They have less time to get organized, there's less distance to run when you defend and so you save energy."
Deschamps is expecting Finland, third in Group I, to put up stiffer resistance than Australia did. "I think it will be harder. They've had 10 days to prepare," he said. "It's true that they've got nothing to play for, but that doesn't mean they're going to come and stroll around."
Out of the nine qualifying groups, France's is the only one that has five teams rather than six, and Deschamps called it "a double punishment" in terms of FIFA's rankings because "we have two less matches, and less points on offer."
French Federation President Noel Le Graet said Sunday that he believes the seeding system is unfair and plans to ask football's governing body to review it ahead of next Monday's draw. "I don't know if the federation will ask FIFA," Deschamps said. "But from my point of view it's not very logical."
Meanwhile, center half Laurent Koscielny has shaken off a calf problem and is available to face Finland.