The French national team had the luxury of leaving out names from their squad that would be starters in most other top teams in this tournament. Such is the level of talent that Dider Deschamps could have called upon for the hosts’ bid for a third hold on the UEFA European championship. The likes of Karim Benzema, Aymeric Laporte, Kurt Zouma, Hatem Ben Arfa, Alexandre Lacazette, Mathieu Valbuena, Raphael Varane, and Geoffrey Kondogbia all won’t be playing for reasons ranging from merit to sex scandals to injury to, if we believe Benzema, ethnicity, race and religion.
FIFA’s world ranking deems them 17th best in the world and 10th in Europe but most will fancy them, Germany, Belgium, or Spain to be eventual winners when the story of Euro 2016 has been written. Controversy surrounds, true to form. Benzema has made allegations of deliberate exclusion of players of North African descent in the wake of his exclusion but that is not for us to speculate on. How does the chosen France squad look and how can they craft a tournament win?
Goalkeepers: Benoit Costil (Rennes), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Marseille).
Defenders: Lucas Digne (Roma), Patrice Evra (Juventus), Christophe Jallet (Lyon), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Eliaquim Mangala (Manchester City), Jeremy Mathieu (Barcelona), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), Adil Rami (Sevilla).
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (Crystal Palace), Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United), N’Golo Kante (Leicester), Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle).
Forwards: Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Andre-Pierre Gignac (Tigres), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Dimitri Payet (West Ham).
There is strength in depth at most positions. Particularly exciting is the forward line which boasts Atletico Madrid standout Griezmann, Man United starlet Martial, a rejuvenated Gignac and Arsenal front-man Giroud. West Ham revelation Payet and Griezmann are favourites to start with the third attacking position being a toss-up between the less experienced Martial and Giroud. Should the Arsenal striker be chosen to start as is expected, he will be the man in the middle with Griezmann played on the right. Should Martial get the nod, then Griezmann would assume the role of the centre forward with the 19 year old played on the right. What will count against Martial is that his best position is on the left which is most likely sealed up by Payet, pushed over the edge by his creative ability. In Payet, they have a top quality creator and one of the world’s best at set pieces. Griezmann knows what it is to thrive off little and Martial has had to learn the art very quickly as part of an anaemic Man United attack.
It will be difficult to stop the French team from scoring given the supply which also comes from Pogba and Matuidi.
Locomotive Leicester standout Kante will, in all likelihood, get his chance but he will have his work cut out protecting an injury hit cadre of defenders missing Varane and Laporte in particular. With Varane missing, the shaky Mangala will most likely play alongside Koscielny. Whilst their skills are complimentary with Koscielny strong in the air and Mangala blessed with pace, the Man City man is error prone and there is a question of chemistry between them. The fullbacks also can be an area to exploit as 35 year old Patrice Evra and 33 year old Bacary Sagna are the starters. Their lack of pace could be a source of joy for quick wide players.
This team is too loaded up front not to score. Their last warm-up match, a 3-2 win against Cameroon, pretty much exemplified that; but will it become a case of outscoring opponents if Mangala shows his bad side and the fullbacks prove to be an area of weakness? The youth is exciting as even Bayern Munich starlet Coman lies in wait. Switzerland should pose the biggest threat in the group stages. However, the first round feels like a preparation for bigger tests.
The last time they hosted a major football tournament they won their first World Cup when they were much less fancied. They will hope for a repeat this time around and will depend on their young stars to push them over the edge.