Euro 2020 is creeping ever closer, and France head into the tournament looking to add to their World Cup win by picking up the trophy they should have won in 2016.
France hosted the previous Euros and made the final very impressively, only to completely lose their nerve and lose to Portugal, via a goal from Eder at that.
The French eased that pain by winning the World Cup two years later in Russia, but now they will be looking to banish the ghosts of that defeat by winning Euro 2020 and becoming reigning World and European champions for the second time in modern history.
The best players France are bringing to Euro 2020:
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris
Owing to Alphonse Areola’s stuttering career, Hugo Lloris is still the undisputed No.1 for France. Proudly wearing the armband, Lloris is an excellent shot-stopper who is nevertheless prone to errors. His error in the World Cup final, allowing Mario Mandzukic to score, was the kind of mistake that could destroy someone’s career… were France not already 4-1 up at the time. He will doubtless play well this summer, but will he drop the ball? Maybe not, maybe, hell maybe even literally!
Defence: Raphael Varane
When in form and partnered by a rock-solid leader and organiser, Raphael Varane is one of the very best centre-backs in the world. However, when he has to be the senior stopper he can become a bit unreliable. Samuel Umtiti was his rock during France’s 2018 World Cup win but without Umtiti in 2020, he has become reliant on Presnel Kimpembe to keep his levels high. Their partnership is a solid one and so you can expect to see the best of Varane at the Euros; a freight train of a defender who is quick, strong and technically flawless.
Midfield: Paul Pogba
France’s midfield maestro has endured a stop-start 2020/21 thanks to injury but as the World Cup showed, Les Bleus are a much, much better side when Paul Pogba is in it. Obviously, N’Golo Kanté is brilliant but given the manager’s defensive disposition, there will always be people who can do what he does. France have no one who can create from the middle of the park with the kind of regal authority Paul Pogba brings; and by now we’ve all seen his World Cup final speech so his qualities as a squad leader are evident as well. If France are to do anything at Euro 2020, they will need Pogba to be at the top of his game.
Attack: Kylian Mbappé
With apologies to Antoine Griezmann, who was arguably France’s most decisive player across their entire World Cup campaign and run to the Euro 2016 final, this can be none other than Kylian Mbappé. Of course, Griezmann’s poor form for Barcelona doesn’t help but Mbappé is an honest-to-goodness phenom averaging more than one goal involvement per 90 minutes (or close enough anyway). He has speed, skill and an utterly ruthless goalscoring instinct. He lit up the World Cup as a teenager, now will he dominate the Euros as a 20-something? Probably.
The head coach: Didier Deschamps
Didier Deschamps was a World Cup-winning captain in 1998 and he was a World Cup-winning manager 20 years later in 2018. He actually took charge of France in 2012 and has instituted a genuinely impressive winning mentality. In fact, Deschamps needs only nine more victories to clock up more wins for the French national team than any other manager has taken charge of games, full-stop.
Deschamps’ success has come in his finely-tuned man-management skills. Geniuses like Karim Benzema have been discarded, with Deschamps all but admitting their talent isn’t worth the trouble they nearly always bring with them. He’s got everyone focused and working for a side moving in the right direction. He’s far from expansive, which can sometimes hold France back against weaker sides, but he knows how to grind out results in the intense environment of knockout international football.
France are an uncomplicated side, tactically. Despite a brief flirtation with three at the back, it’s highly likely that Deschamps will send his men out in a 4-3-1-2 shape reminiscent of the same one France used to win the World Cup back in 1998 when Deschamps played.
Lloris keeps goal behind the rock-solid duo of Varane and Kimpembe. Out wide are Bayern duo Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernández. Naturally centre-backs, the two provide serious physical and athletic prowess on the flanks and can add to France’s defensive solidity when they retreat into a rearguard (which is most of the time).
Kanté will hold midfield flanked by two men, one is Pogba who functions as the chief midfield playmaker of the side. He does his defensive work but is free to push forward and join the attack. On the other side is a more basic shuttle player; at the World Cup it was Blaise Matuidi but lately, it has been Adrien Rabiot. The idea of that role is that they provide supporting runs both inside and outside of the forwards, creating vertical thrust in a team short of it.
Up-front, we will likely see Olivier Giroud lead the line. Deschamps is an enormous fan of Giroud and the hold-up play he adds to the team. Plus, to be honest, the striker does have a great knack for scoring for his country – only Thierry Henry has scored more for France. Giroud will be partnered by Griezmann and Mbappé who, along with Pogba, are the key attacking pieces of the team.
Griezmann is the focal playmaker, everything runs through him. He is also the first line of defence with his exceptional pressing abilities, plus his set-pieces often prove crucial. Mbappé is lightning in a bottle, a pure accelerant who adds dynamism and goal threat to a side that can often lack it. Mbappé can make France irresistible if he’s in the mood, and he usually is at big tournaments.
The form guide
Euro 2020 Qualifying: WWDWWWWLWW
France breezed through their European qualification with eight wins out of 10. They dominated every opponent except for second-place Turkey, a solid defensive outfit who beat them in Istanbul and drew with them in Paris. Besides that, Les Bleus walked their way into Euro 2020 with Griezmann clocking up a joint-best seven assists among all qualifying players.
Recent fixtures: WWDWWLWDWW
Les Bleus have been even more impressive lately than they were during their European qualification. Their Nations League group posed them little trouble as they won five and drew just one of their six group games, booking themselves a spot in the semi-finals vs Belgium. They’ve lost just once in their last 18 games, and that was a friendly against Finland where they played a weakened side.
Chances of winning:
Priced at 5/1 with Sky Bet, France are among the favourites for Euro 2020. Understandably so as they made the final last time, are defending World Champions, and boast five of the world’s very best players in their team. Their major concern will be the poor form of Griezmann because if he takes his Barcelona slump into the Euros, it could prove troublesome given how fundamental he is to their style of play.
Yes, there are alternatives in Kingsley Coman, Ousmane Dembélé or Anthony Martial but none of them can replicate what Griezmann does. Deschamps will need to use all of his man-management skills to motivate Griezmann ahead of the finals and get him back in the kind of form that saw him score 10 goals across Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.
As long as he can resolve the Griezmann conundrum and make sure Varane and Lloris can avoid, y’know, Varane and Lloris’ing it up, it’s hard to see how anyone could stop France from adding the Euros to the World Cup and becoming the undisputed kings of international football.