Blaise Matuidi, Didier Deschamps

France Coach Didier Deschamps, right, talks to midfielder Blaise Matuidi at the end of a training session. (Franck Fife / AFP / Getty Images / June 4, 2014)

Once upon a time the French were as good at soccer as any country in the world.

Between 1998 and 2006, France won one World Cup and made the final of another. It won consecutive Confederations Cups and captured a Euro title. At one point it was champion of the three most important international tournaments in the sport.

French Coach Didier Deschamps not only remembers those times, he was partly responsible for them, captaining the team to the World Cup title in 1998 on its home soil and helping it win the European championship two years later.

His job now is to recapture that glory and erase the embarrassment of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when a mutiny against Coach Raymond Domenech was the only sign of unity on a winless French team that finished last in its group.

Yet heading into this month's World Cup in Brazil, Deschamps' start has been uneven at best.

Just before France's final World Cup qualifiers last fall, Deschamps was forced to issue a public apology after defender Patrice Evra had a meltdown during a TV interview, calling a journalist and former teammates "tramps" and "parasites."

France then rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat Ukraine in a dramatic two-leg playoff, narrowly avoiding its first World Cup absence in two decades.

Six months later Deschamps was under fire again when he released a roster for Brazil that did not include midfielder Samir Nasri. That led Nasri's supermodel girlfriend, Anara Atanes, to launch a profane Twitter tirade against the coach, who struck back by suing Atanes.

Yet for all the drama, the Nasri episode demonstrates that France –- and Deschamps –- have learned from 2010, when a talented but undisciplined team self-destructed on the sport's biggest stage, drawing rebukes from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the suspension of all 23 players and the resignation of soccer federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes.

"What happened happened," Deschamps said when he announced his World Cup roster on national television. "That won't go away. It put a stamp on our history. But we don't need to discuss it again."

Nasri is the latest causality of that history lesson.

The Manchester City standout was a disruptive force for France during the European Championships two years ago. Benched following a locker room incident with a teammate, he later challenged a journalist to a fight. Deschamps wasn't willing to take a chance on a repeat of that in Brazil.

"The aim was to build the best squad, not necessarily to take the top 23 French players," the coach said. "[Nasri] has made it clear he is not happy when he is a substitute. And I can tell you it can be felt in the squad."

Still, France's results under Deschamps remain a mixed bag. Since he took over 23 months ago, after France stumbled out of the Euros with one win in four games, the national team has won just half of its 22 games. But its gutty comeback against Ukraine –- with Nasri sitting on the bench –- was arguably the biggest moment for French soccer in four years.

After that win, readers of the Paris daily Le Parisien ranked Deschamps the second-most popular national team coach in modern times.

Yet doubts linger. Can Deschamps keep the team together? Does France have –- or need –- an outspoken leader like the 1998 team had in Zinedine Zidane?

And speaking of Zidane, while the French have good players in forward Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, they lack players with the gravitas of Zidane, Thierry Henry and Lilian Thuram.

They will also lack their best attacking player, Bayern Munich midfielder Franck Ribery, who was left off the French squad Friday because of a back injury.

"We have to remain ambitious," Deschamps told reporters Friday. "Obviously with Ribery at 100% we're a better team, but we'll try and be a good team without him."

What the French do have, however, are goals.