Euro 2016 – France

Although France automatically qualified  for the tournament as hosts, it would have been a shock to have not seen them otherwise. A fresh-faced batch of new talent has hit the country by storm, and as result they’re seen by many as favourites for the competition.

France haven’t won the Euro’s since Holland and Belgium co-hosted it in 2000, with a David Trezeguet golden goal securing them victory over Italy in extra-time. The team who played that day were the hopes and dreams of a country who hadn’t tasted victory since the days of Platini and Stopyra in the 80s. Their youthful endeavour which began with a fourth place finish at Euro 96, blossomed into ruthless experience that delivered a European Championship and World Cup within the space of two years – a feat that many feel the team of 2016 could replicate given the correct circumstances.

France are the host nation for this summer’s Euro 2016 – what do you make of their chances in the summer?

With a lack of competitive matches during the course of qualification you could be fooled into thinking that this team of youngsters aren’t ready for a tournament of this magnitude, but in front of a passionate home crowd and with a wealth of talent that includes the likes of Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, I would have to say that they are the favourites for the competition.

The French haven’t played a competitive game since a 0-1 defeat to Germany at the 2014 World Cup – do you think that will matter come June ?

I don’t think that this lack of competitive games will have a profound impact upon France because their potential has all but exceeded the expectations of fans since they were knocked out of the World Cup by Germany in 2014, and the staggering progress of players such as N’Golo Kante (who recently won the title with Leicester City) and Dimitri Payet (who has scored 12 goals and provided 15 assists in his debut season at West Ham United) – who both scored on their debuts for France.

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When you consider the startling rise of certain players and the calibre of the players who are currently integral parts of the team, as well as the numerous friendlies France have played against top quality opposition, you would be hard placed to say that France aren’t ready for this summer’s tournament.

They should be confident of winning their group alongside Albania, Romania and Switzerland – who do you think poses the biggest threat ?

I feel that Switzerland will pose the biggest threat to France, although the talents of Romania’s Alexandru Maxim should not be ignored. Switzerland hold the diminutive genius of Xerdan Shaqiri in midfield, whilst the burgeoning talent of Breel Embolo should not be underestimated. They also have seasoned European players in Admir Mehmedi, Ricardo Rodriguez (an integral part of Wolfsburg’s Champions League campaign, in which they narrowly lost to Real Madrid in the quarter finals) and deep lying play-maker Granit Xhaka. They played France in the group stage at the 2014 World Cup, although they lost 2-5 that day they still qualified for the knock-out stage with ease – winning both of their other two games without too many problems.

What is public opinion about their chances – are the French quietly confident of a good performance this year ?

Public opinion is that France should at least reach the semi-finals this summer, especially when you consider the fact that they are the host nation. In the eyes of many, they also hold the strongest squad, and the emergence of so many talented youngsters has once has led many to believe that this year will be the start of a period of prolonged French dominance in European football.

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A good performance this summer is seen to be imperative for the progression of the French national team that has for so long been constrained by frigid player relations and an abysmal work ethic – highlighted by the shameful 2010 World Cup performance, where players boycotted their country, led by Nicholas Anelka after a dispute with then manager Raymond Domenech.

The incident ultimately resulted in the French to exiting at the group stage, despite reaching the final of the competition four years prior. France have now begun to rid themselves of the toxic atmosphere that once manifested itself inside the dressing room – with Nicholas Anelka, Franck Ribéry and Jérémy Toulalan (all assumed to be ring leaders in the 2010 World Cup farce) all retiring from international football. Patrice Evra is the only player to have retained his position despite playing a major role in the incident.

The current team seems to concentrate more on the game rather than personal interests, so there is a new wave of enthusiasm arond the national team in France.

What tactics are France likely to deploy ? 

France are more than likely to set up with a conventional 4-3-3 formation, that utilises the  pace and striking instincts of Antoine Griezmann by deploying him on the left-wing, whilst leaving Olivier Giroud up top and Mathieu Valbuena out on the right. The form of Antony Martial may also see him deployed at left-wing, if Didier Deschamps decides to move Griezmann to a more central role (as the main striker).

The midfield powerhouse that is Paul Pogba links the whole team together with a combative style of play that incorporates raw physicality with elegant passing and a left foot worthy of winning any tournament. Alongside him will most probably be PSG’s Blaise Matuidi, who despite lacking the creative capabilities of Pogba manages to dictate the tempo of the game through deft touches and neat, simplistic passing, and his defensive counterpart Yohan Cabaye acts as a deep lying play-maker, spreading the ball about with consummate ease, although Kante may well be deployed in a deeper position (a position he has played so adeptly with Leicester City this season) allowing Matuidi to push forward into a more advanced position.

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France will certainly look to control the game through an expansive approach that utilises the pace and prolific instincts of Martial and Griezmann, whilst Valbuena should occupy the role of the inside forward (on the right) and will hope to supply Olivier Giroud or Alexandre Lacazette.

How do you rate this current team ? On paper the squad is full of stars – how does it compare to teams of the past ? 

I rate this team very highly, because despite lacking the water-tight defence when the likes of Lilian Thuram and Marcel Desailly played, they counter-balance this with the mercurial talent of Paul Pogba who combines the box-to-box style of Patrick Vieira with shades of Platini apparent in his creative play.

Antoine Griezmann has the predatory instincts of players like Henry and Trezeguet, whilst Matuidi possesses the capabilities of the ‘water carrier’ that was so successfully occupied Claude Makélélé or current manger and former captain Didier Deschamps during France’s ‘golden generation’ reign of 1996-2006.

This team certainly draw comparisons to the golden generation and if they reach their full potential as a team, the future will be bright for the French national team.

How big a miss will Karim Benzema be this summer after his recent blackmail scandal? and who will replace him in the squad?

Karim Benzema will always be missed as he is an excellent striker, but France have an abundance of great striking talent in their squad so his loss may not be as big a problem as people currently think. In terms of the player who may well take the place of Benzema,  there are several candidates who are deserving, with Antony Martial and Lyon’s Nabil Fekir the main contenders to join Griezmann, Lacazette, Gignac and Giroud.

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Who do you think will make up the strikers for Les Bleus ?

I think that both Antoine Griezmann and Alexandre Lacazette are dead certainties for the squad after having similarly spectacular seasons for their respective clubs. Whilst experienced strikers André-Pierre Gignac and Olivier Giroud will probably make the squad as well, although i feel that the raw pace and the instinctive finishing of Martial and the creative versatility of Nabil Fekir are more beneficial to the French squad.

But former loyalties still lie, so both Gignac and Giroud go to the tournament as a result.

Are there any potential stars coming through the youth system ?

Players such as Martial and Kurt Zouma could still be referred to as potential stars, but they’re now seen to be competent members of the national team.

In terms of potential stars who could make the 2018 World Cup squad or even sneak into the 2016 European championship squad you would first of all have to look at Fulham’s Moussa Dembélé (touted by several top Premier League teams) and Lille’s Ousmane Dembélé (who’s just completed a move to Borussia Dortmund), who have both had breakthrough campaigns with their respective squads.

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Juventus’ Kingsley Coman is probably the most likely youth player to make the squad for Euro 2016 squad, but all will surely be certainties for the 2018 World Cup squad. The final player I would recommend is Montpellier’s creative midfielder Morgan Sanson, whose creative dynamism is likened to the exploits of Yohan Cabaye.

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