France’s time has come at last, and the expectation on their shoulders is justified. It has been a difficult, often intensely upsetting build-up to Euro 2016, the Paris attacks in November leaving deep scars and the turmoil surrounding Karim Benzema’s participation hardly helping either.
But, on a purely football level, the team has a depth of quality to rivals that of its storied predecessors around the turn of the century and there is genuine hope that the home nation can repeat its triumphs of 1984 and 2000. It would be a sporting triumph, and perhaps a victory in a wider sense too.
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THE BIG QUESTION
Will they cope without Karim Benzema? The French Football Federation announced in April that the Real Madrid striker, an influential figure for his country with 27 goals from 81 caps, will not play at Euro 2016 after being questioned last year in connection to an alleged blackmail attempt against team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.
That leaves a huge hole in the team’s attack on the face of things – but with the emergence of Dimitri Payet as a likely starter as well as Anthony Martial’s rich promise and the form of Antoine Griezmann, France should still have too much for most teams if they click.
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HOW FAR WILL FRANCE GET AT EURO 2016?
France will play at a fast tempo and that will be aided if N’Golo Kante, the Leicester midfielder who scored on his debut against Russia in March, plays in midfield. It is an attack-minded side although the full-backs, Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna, do not bomb up and down as they used to and central defenders Raphael Varane and Laurent Koscielny are not the most dominant. Blaise Matuidi, the outstanding PSG midfielder, will do an important job anchoring things in the centre. Olivier Giroud is an alternative to lead the line if Deschamps opts for height and power.
THE MANAGER: DIDIER DESCHAMPS
Didier Deschamps (France coach)
Image credit: AFP
Can Deschamps repeat history? In 1998 he famously lifted the World Cup as France’s captain on home soil; taking hold of the Henri Delaunay trophy in Paris as coach would complete a remarkable "double" and he has certainly improved the team during his four years in charge. Although France squeaked into the World Cup via a comeback play-off win against Ukraine they played well at the finals before a last-eight defeat to Germany and Deschamps, who previously coached Monaco, Juventus and Marseille, can entertain realistic hopes of going one or two better.
TOP THREE PLAYERS
Antoine Griezmann, buteur pour l'Atletico face au Bayern
Image credit: AFP
Antoine Griezmann: The Atletico Madrid forward’s quality is no secret, but he has taken things up to another level in the last two seasons and it is hard to think of an attacker in better form going into Euro 2016. An livewire, lethal finisher who can play across the front, he is a decent bet for the golden boot.
Paul Pogba: The 23-year-old still has one or two detractors, but the fact that there can only be more to come from the Juventus midfielder should silence them and at his best he could dominate midfields on his own this summer. He was named the best young player at the 2014 World Cup.
Hugo Lloris: The Premier League season ended flatly for Lloris at Tottenham but that cannot obscure the fact that, once again, he was on outstanding form throughout and, as captain of his country, the goalkeeper will be expected to stand tall when it matters this summer too.
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Matuidi is an entertaining tweeter, with insights into his family life dotted among photos and videos pertaining to events at PSG. One much-retweeted picture in February showed his family sitting down to dinner alongside somebody dressed in a giant Mickey Mouse costume.
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France’s problem is almost that they have too many options. A 4-3-3 appears to be Didier Deschamps favoured formation, but there are countless possibilities within that. Dimitri Payet looks to have played his way into the side, which, if Karim Benzema is still ruled out, may mean Antoine Greizmann starting at centre-forward.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
France qualified automatically as hosts but were placed in Group I as a ‘ghost’ team alongside Portugal, Albania, Denmark, Serbia and Armenia. It was the first time UEFA had adopted such a model, intended to keep things competitive for countries who might be confined to friendlies for two years, and France found it useful even if there were a few slip-ups – such as a draw and defeat against Albania. Had the results counted, France would have won the group with 23 points.
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