Questions of Deschamps as France let Euro 2016 slip away

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All the signs pointed to a French party. They started the Euro 2016 Final as clear favourites against a Portugal team which had clawed their way to the Stade de France showdown. France, meanwhile, were riding high following victory over Germany.

They had the chance to equal Michel Platini’s team of 1984 which won the European Championships on home soil. And the class of 1998. Captain then, Didier Deschamps could be a national hero once more.

But this was a tournament for ending hoodoos. Italy ended their barren spell against Spain. Germany then finally beat the Azzurri in a major tournament. Portugal came into the Final without a win in their last 10 against France. That included the Semi-finals of Euro ‘84 and 2000, plus the World Cup six years later. And the French did themselves no favours on a moth-infested Sunday in Paris.

Even with Portugal losing talisman Cristiano Ronaldo and France holding the ascendency, the game remained scoreless. Deschamps said afterwards the French “lost together”, although some of his decisions were curious, to say the least.

He has battled with midfield balance throughout the tournament. It started when it became clear Antoine Griezmann would be better suited to playing centrally. A man in form, Deschamps went with the Atletico Madrid player. For the Quarter-final with Iceland he was fielded in a 4-2-3-1 behind Olivier Giroud. But in the reshuffle, Deschamps had Paul Pogba become the holding midfielder.

On Sunday the Juventus man did not have a licence to get forward. It was Moussa Sissoko and Blaise Matuidi doing that. While offering energy, they lack the craft of Pogba. France needed that to unlock a resolute Portuguese defence.

They did create chances – Griezmann had a header in each half and Andre-Pierre Gignac hit the post in second half injury time, but the longer it went on the more France grew anxious. And Portugal grew in confidence. Deschamps substitutions, aside from throwing on Anthony Martial after the Portuguese goal, did little to change the course of the match.

There appeared no French fluidity through the centre, or cohesiveness in their attacking play. Would releasing Pogba have changed anything? It would have helped. Don’t forget, he was heavily involved in the second goal against Germany, minutes after N’Golo Kante came on to protect the base of midfield.

Portugal got the only goal in extra-time, leaving France to wonder how they let another home tournament triumph slip through their grasp. When tasked with breaking down a firm defence neither the players or coach had an answer.

Deschamps delighted with France in Euro 2016 final

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France booked their place in the Euro 2016 final after beating Germany in Thursday’s semi-final clash at the Stade Velodrome, and manager Didier Deschamps was delighted with his players for finally winning against Germany in a knockout clash.

“There is quality in this German team. And when they don’t have the ball it gets even more complicated. We had the best team in the world opposite us. We had to suffer but never gave up and that’s great for me. This is a great story – the players wrote history by knocking out Germany,” he said.

France have limited time before Sunday’s final against Portugal at the Stade de France, losing one day’s preparation compared to their opposition, but Deschamps has a strong squad more than capable. The likes of N’Kolo Kante can come into the midfield if there’s fatigue from others, while Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial are further attacking options.

“We have three days before the final, it’s very short so we have to savour this victory. It’s an important step forward but the most important step is Sunday. We’re going to do everything in our power to go in to Sunday’s game in the best possible condition,” added the France manager. France go into the final as favourites given their squad and home advantage, especially after dispatching of the World champions.

It had been 58 years since France beat Germany in a knockout game, but France defender Patrice Evra believes a friendly victory in November last year helped Les Blues to believe. “As soon as we beat them in a friendly, it gave us a lift. Of course they were strong, of course they were the favourites and they had good ball possession. But we told each other we would never give up. And that’s why I’m proud of my teammates,” he said.

No side had scored past Germany in open play until the semi-final, and given their trio of attackers have scored and created 18 goals between them in the tournament, Portugal will be fearful. They haven’t been too full of goals themselves so their plan will be to try and stifle France by not leaving many gaps to be exploited. France have pace and power and the ruthless finishing in the final third hurt any team, so Portugal could find themselves blown away if not careful.

France’s front three Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet have all scored three of more goals in the tournament. Portugal’s duo Luis Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo the same. As a result, their final on the weekend should be a good contest.

Brilliant Griezmann inspires France to Euro 2016 final

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France are in the Euro 2016 final and will face Portugal on Sunday after defeating Germany 2-0 thanks to two Antoine Griezmann goals.

The opener at the death of the first half was a penalty- but it was a controversial one as Patrice Evra’s header in the German area was adjudged to touch Bastian Schweinsteiger’s hand, it did but was it a harsh decision? Man of the moment Griezmann was up against probably the best goal keeper in the world in Manuel Neuer, Griezmann’s shot sent the German the other way and France erupted.

Germany went in at half time a goal down but just how this came to be will take a lot of soul searching from within the team. Because they quite simply dominated the first half. Germany were irresistible, near magnificent, closed down their opponents and were making France look very ordinary. There seemed like there would be only one winner. But the penalty and at the time it came seemed to wind the Germans some.

The second half started much as the first half had been- with Germany seeking possession, but it was becoming all to evident what their problem was: They had in this tournament no killer instinct and no striker. In previous competitions going back to when they last won the Euro’s in 1996 they could count on Oliver Bierhoff, Miroslav Klose dominated the front line in the 2000′s and Thomas Muller was mostly quite frankly superb. They still had Muller and at Euro 2016 he was mostly quite frankly abysmal. Strange from coach Joachim Low that he refused to part ways with a striker that simply wasn’t having a good tournament, the ball was his enemy and his gift of the gab had clearly left him. Germany had no answer- and then they did the unthinkable and played like an amateur Sunday team in defence to gift the French and Griezmann the second goal which killed the game off.

As for France they grew more confident and bold as the game went on- finding more space in midfield and controlling it too. Paul Pogba shone, Patrice Evra rolled back the year’s, Hugo Lloris IS the goal keeper of this tournament and made some vital saves as Germany threw everything at the French in the final frantic moments and Samuel Umtiti the 22 year old Lyon player was an absolute monster.

France will face the other Ronaldo at the Stade de France in a major final just like they did when they hosted the 1998 World Cup. That night they played against a Brazilian who should have been in a hospital bed not on a football pitch. On Sunday they will face a player on top of his game. For tonight the Stade Velodrome in Marseille and indeed the whole country of France is awash in the tri colours, Viva France!

 

 

Tensions mount for France ahead of Euro 2016 match against Republic of Ireland

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What if on early Sunday evening France are dumped out of their host tournament Euro 2016? Talk about pulling the plug out of the largest party France has known since the 1998 World Cup. The Republic of Ireland have that chance to do just that and to say tensions are mounting in the French camp would be an understatement.

Here in France fans are weary of the Irish who looked good against Italy with their group game victory that saw them reach the knock out rounds and have the opportunity to play the host nation. Ireland have the wind in their tails so to speak and the confidence is running wildly throughout the team. For some French fans despite the team progressing to the round of 16 easier than thought Les Bleus simply haven’t been firing on all cylinders. They have much like England relied on late goals to gloss over what has been anything but memorable performances and the fans will know that France will have to be at their best to despatch Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane’s team.

Of course there is also the question of history between these two and it is the Irish who will feel they were the victims last time out. Back in World Cup qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, both France and Ireland were paired in the play off knock out rounds to reach the finals in South Africa. The first leg in Ireland ended with a victory for the French by 1-0 but it was the 2nd leg in Paris that caused all the controversy. That match ended 1-1 after a spirited fight from the Irish but they went out 2-1 on aggregate. France’s goal was scored by William Gallas, a perfectly legit strike but he was assisted by the hand of Thierry Henry in the build up. Henry clearly did handball the ball and admitted so afterwards and it was inevitably a bitter pill for the Irish to swallow. Despite protests that the match should be replayed, FIFA denied the Irish the chance and they were out of the World Cup before it had even started.

The Irish team are bound to say that the match this Sunday is not about revenge, but it’s hard to escape the facts of what happened and the match between the two some 7 years ago will be on both sets of players minds.

There is no doubt that the city of Lyon will be on tender hooks when France meet up against Ireland both sides looking to reach the quarter final phase and play either England or Iceland in what would be another mouthwatering encounter.

 

France manager Didier Deschamps upbeat about topping Group A in Euro 2016

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France manager Didier Deschamps had mixed emotions after his side’s goalless stalemate against Switzerland on Sunday night. Les Blues booked their place in the last-16 of the European Championships as Group A winners, and their head coach was delighted to have already achieved one of their goals in the tournament.

“We were there to secure first place and we did it, so it’s mission accomplished. Had we been a bit more clinical or had more luck, we could have won. I’m not blind, I do realise that we can do better. Now a new competition is going to start for us next Sunday. We have a long week ahead of us and that will give us time to prepare,” he said.

France hit the woodwork three times against Switzerland and created numerous opportunities throughout the encounter at the Grand Stade Lille Métropole, but they just couldn’t breach the Swiss backline. The draw meant both sides went through to the last-16 of Euro 2016, and now have many days to rest before their clash against the third-placed team of Group C, D or E commences.

Les Blues are favourites to go all the way in the Euros, and enjoyed an unbeaten campaign to make it to the next round, conceding only one goal in the process. France picked up two wins against Romania and Albania before their stalemate against Switzerland, and have shown moments of exciting attacking play that could tear defences apart when they get into gear.

Reservations remain about their ageing defence, but they have been solid when it’s mattered in the group stages. France are regarded as favourites to win the Euros with home advantage, but Germany and Spain are two sides expected to go the distance. Nevertheless, Deschamps will be pleased with his side getting the job done to progress as group winners, and now they will see who their next opponents will be.

While playing out a dour draw against Switzerland, France gave appearances to a number of their fringe players – Yohan Cabaye, Moussa Sissoko, Kingsley Coman and André-Pierre Gignac – most of whom did a decent job at the Grand Stade Lille Métropole. Deschamps isn’t likely to deviate from his starting eleven in France’s last game, however, but giving minutes to as many players as possible means they have good options from the bench.

With a 23-man squad, it’s hard to give everyone game time, but Deschamps has looked to share out the minutes as much as possible.

Dream start to Euro 2016 for passionate Payet

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Laboring to a disappointing draw in their first game as hosts of Euro 2016 with an expectant home crowd growing increasingly restless, France were rapidly running out of ideas to break down a well organised Romanian side.

Les Bleus were in desperate need of a moment of either inspiration or good fortune.  Fortunately for them, Dimitri Payet provided the former, by unleashing a superb left foot shot which rocketed into the top corner of Ciprian Tatarusanu’s net, to give Didier Deschamps team a 2-1 win and transform the mood inside the Stade de France from one of frustration to euphoria.

Despite going ahead through Olivier Giroud just before the hour mark, France played with neither fluency nor incisiveness and surrendered their lead when Bogdan Stancu converted a penalty in the 65th minute.

Thereafter the French players sprung to life and injected more urgency into their play, with Payet particularly prominent in trying to unlock Romania’s resolute rearguard, with the West Ham winger eventually doing so virtue of his wonderful 89th minute strike.

When substituted just a few moments later, after receiving a standing ovation from a capacity home crowd, tears of joy streamed down the face of the 29-year-old, who after being absent from the French squad for 9 months only returned to it in March.  Subsequently that month, Payet justified his international recall by producing two assured performances in France’s friendlies – a 3-2 win away over the Netherlands and a 4-2 home victory against Russia.

Against the Russians, with his first touch of the ball, Payet scored a sublime 30-yard-free kick and produced a similarly magical strike to help Les Bleus beat Cameroon 3-2 last month.  Such illustrations of Payet’s prodigious talent combined with his superb form for West Ham throughout the 2015-16 season - whereby he was named as the club’s player of the year and shortlisted for the PFA Players Player of the Year Award – convinced Deschamps to include the former Marseille playmaker in his Euro 2016 squad.

As such Payet has established himself as a key member of that, not only because of his goal against Romania but overall performance against Anghel Iordanescu’s men.  Whereas many of his teammates struggled to positively impose themselves on the game, particularly the much heralded duo of Andre Greizmann and Paul Pogba, Payet was a constant threat to the Romanian side.

In creating several chances for Olivier Giroud, one of which was the assist for the Arsenal striker’s goal, Payet displayed his vast ability to produce dangerous crosses and defense splitting through balls.  By doing so, Payet not only demonstrated his importance to Les Bleus, but substantiated a pre-tournament claim made by Deschamps on French TV.  “Dimitri can bring something to our side.”  Arguably many things.  Control, creativity, inventiveness, vision, a general wealth of technical ability, Payet displayed each of those attributes in abundance against Romania, which endeared him to the French supporters.  So too did his goal-winning celebration which he poignantly explained post match.  “There was a lot of stress and a lot of pressure, and all the emotion came out with that goal.”

Should the passionate Payet continue to perform as impressively as he did against Romania throughout the tournament, that will greatly enhance France’s prospects of being crowned European Champions for a third time.

 

 

 

France get off to a winning start at Euro 2016

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There was to put it mildly a huge sigh of relief when Euro 2016 hosts got the tournament under way with victory against Romania. The French ran out narrow 2-1 winners in a game that looked to be heading for a draw at a sold out Stade de France.

West Ham United striker Dimitri Payet was the hero when his superb screamer just a minute from time sealed the win. The first half was mostly a scrappy affair with the French being ultra cautious in the opening exchanges. Indeed it took until early in the second half for the deadlock to be broken after a fine backward header by Oliver Giroud opened the scoring.

And yet victory seemed distant after Romania were handed a lifeline when Patrice Evra made a clumsy challenge in the area and the outsiders were awarded a penalty. Nicolae Stanciu duly obliged from the spot and it was 1-1. Suddenly the party atmosphere had evaporated and unless you were Romanian you were finding yourself rooting for a French goal. If anything the country had been through so much this past year a win in their host opening tournament could at least lift some spirits.

But Romania remained a solid outfit unwilling to yield to a script. It is worth noting that the underdogs had 10 goal attempts to France’s 14 and did play their part in the opening fixture.

And with just 60 seconds of normal time remaining France finally found the breakthrough after Payet’s shot. Manager Didier Deschamps then did the perfect salute to the young striker by substituting him in injury time and thus giving him a moment he will never forget. 80,000 fans applauding him, it was all too much for the player who visibility broke down in tears of joy.

Deschamps said of Payet, ”I have no doubts over Dimitri and the influence he can have on the game. He can make the difference, It is quite easy when you can bang it into the top corner, it solves a lot of problems.” Deschamps went onto describe the match which was a nervy affair, “The opening match of a competition is a bit like a cup final and we were a bit timid in the opening 25 minutes. It is the result that matters above all. We know not everything was perfect, far from it. This Romanian side showed they are very organised and it is very important to start with a victory.”

France will be hoping to put in a better performance when they play Albania next on Wednesday. The French end their group stage matches against Switzerland.

Les Bleus: Talented Euro 2016 hosts well equipped to handle high expectations

Euro 2016

Since the first European Championship in 1960, the host nation has won the tournament on three occasions, with France being the last to do so in 1984.

The scene of that triumph was the Parc de Princes as Les Bleus, coached that year by Michel Hidalgo, defeated Spain 2-0 in the final.

Whilst Hidalgo’s class of 1984 - inspired by the mercurial talent of Michel Platini – whose nine goals remain the most scored by a single player at a European Championships - made home advantage count, France’s 1998 World Cup team also did.  After going through the tournament unbeaten, Aime Jacquet’s side produced a wonderful performance at the Stade de France to beat the holders Brazil 3-0 in the final.

Captaining the French side to victory that night was the team’s current manager Didier Deschamps, who also wore the armband when Les Bleus won Euro 2000.  That year’s final was held in Rotterdam with France beating Italy 2-1 after extra time.

As such Euro 2016 presents the current crop of French stars not only the opportunity to win the country’s third European Championship title but also make it a hat-trick of major international tournament wins as hosts.

Undoubtedly Deschamps talented team have the potential to do that, an opinion expressed by one of both, the manager’s former team – mates and, France’s greatest ever players, Thierry Henry.

“I back France to perform, to actually win Euro 2016.  I think the French team is good enough.  They’re actually really good,” proclaims Henry.  Ultimately however, such lofty expectations place a great deal of pressure on the French side, which is intensified by them being hosts.

Nevertheless since Deschamps has experienced winning a World Cup on home soil as a player, he is an ideal figure to help his players handle the aforementioned expectancy and pressure.  Testament to that is the eloquent and jovial style in which Deschamps holds press conferences.  During the most recent of those he spoke alongside his captain Hugo Lloris, acknowledging the quality of both the current French side and other main contenders for Euro 2016.

“We are going to say we are the best, the most magnificent,” Deschamps joked sarcastically. “No listen, when I picked the squad I knew they were quality players, with different characteristics, able to score lots of goals.”  Thereafter the 47-year-old paid respect to Germany and Spain’s credentials as main challengers to his team to win Euro 2016.  “Based on their experience and results over the last few years - whereby Spain won Euro 2008 & 2012 along with the 2010 World Cup, whilst Germany are the reigning World Champions - clearly those two sides do begin the competition with the aim, and a legitimate one, of being able to win it.”

However neither Germany nor Spain’s preparations for the finals have been ideal, both in terms of their performances in warm-up games and the fitness and form of many of their key players.  In contrast to that the entire French squad go into their opening game against Romania in confident mood after having won each of their last 10 friendlies stretching back to September last year.  Also in France’s favor is that - although doing so brings added expectations of them performing well - they are to play in familiar surroundings, supported by a partisan home crowd.

As such despite not having played a competitive match since being beaten 1-0 by Germany in the quarter finals of the 2014 World Cup, France’s prospects for winning Euro 2016 appear to be strong.  That is particularly the case given the wealth of talented players from which Deschamps is able to choose.  Ultimately that poses its own challenges for the manager in the sense that selecting his best starting XI is problematic.  In a positive sense however.

Within the 4-3-3 formation that Deschamps has settled upon playing there are four certain starters.  The team’s captain Hugo Lloris is to play in goal, with Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba occupying the central midfield berths.  Up front Antoine Greizmann is a definite starter, with the Atletico Madrid striker and either Dimitri Payet or Anthony Martial likely to support a center forward which will most probably be Andre-Pierre Gignac, in the absence of Karim Benzema.

However the back four which Deschamps will select is far from certain.  Laurent Koscielny and Adil Rami are the top candidates to play center back, whilst Deschamps faces a real selection dilemma in the full back area.  Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna are the most experienced options available, but have not inspired confidence with recent performances, so Christophe Jallet and Lucas Digne may come into Deschamps reckoning.

Complementing the combativeness and discipline of Pogba, and Matuidi’s attacking flair in midfield will either be N’Golo Kante or Morgan Schneiderlin, following Lassana Diarra’s departure from the squad.

Subsequently given the level of talent among the French squad and their manager’s vast experience of handling the pressures associated with trying to win a major international tournament whilst playing as hosts, Les Bleus are undoubtedly well equipped to mount a serious challenge to win Euro 2016.

 

Pogba poised to be France’s Euro 2016 catalyst

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If fans looked closely last October they would have noticed a small ‘+5’ scrawled next to Paul Pogba’s No 10 Juventus shirt. Theories were put forth. Pogba was burdened by wearing the prestigious number as the Bianconeri struggled. This was his way of ‘returning’ to his old No 6. Or, it was actually a ‘75’ to honour the birthday of the iconic Pele.

Either way, as Juve’s Scudetto defence got off to a rocky start, Pogba’s performances came in for criticism. Without Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal the look of the Old Lady’s midfield changed. Even more so as Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira sat out the opening weeks through injury. The onus was forced on Pogba, who went from talented youngster to midfield leader.

It took time for Pogba to adjust. The return of Marchisio and Khedira helped him settle. In the latter months of a successful 2015-16 campaign, the Frenchman was one of the stars. He ended the Serie A season with eight goals and 12 assists – a League high alongside Miralem Pjanic – in 35 appearances.

Pogba netted four goals and assisted a further seven in his last 10 matches in all competitions. He proved one of Juve’s most decisive players in a season which ended with another domestic double.

With focus shifting to the international game, he dons the Bleus shirt in the right frame of mind. Voted the Best Young Player at Brazil 2014, Pogba can go a step further as France chase another home success. European Champions in 1984 and World Cup winners in 1998 when Pogba was five, France are one of the favourites to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy.

On Monday, Pogba provided a sumptuous assist for Olivier Giroud to volley home in France’s 3-2 triumph against Cameroon. The 23-year-old’s 30th cap for the French national team was highlighted by his jinking feet and inch-perfect cross for the Arsenal man.

Just like in Turin this season, Didier Deschamps will be expecting key contributions from his star midfielder. Pogba can drift in and out of matches. His usual position at Juve on the left of a midfield three ensures he is not always the focal point of a contest. But in the final third Pogba’s creativity and eye for goal is valuable.

Deschamps has been rocked by pre-tournament defensive injuries, including to Raphael Varane and Jeremy Mathieu, putting extra importance on what they do in the final third. The boss will be relying on Pogba. He responded in Turin and can do the same at Euro 2016.