What’s next for Les bleus?

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

TIPPED to em­u­late France’s 1984 Euro­pean cham­pi­ons and 1998 World Cup win­ners, the ‘Griez­mann Gen­er­a­tion’s bit­ter Euro 2016 fi­nal de­feat by Por­tu­gal will take some get­ting over.

After sweep­ing past world cham­pi­ons Ger­many in the semi-fi­nals, the stage was set for An­toine Griez­mann and his team­mates to lead France to a third ma­jor tour­na­ment tri­umph on home soil.

But de­spite los­ing Cris­tiano Ron­aldo to a first-half knee in­jury, Por­tu­gal pre­vailed 1-0 cour­tesy of Eder’s extratime strike at Stade de France on July 10, bring­ing Di­dier Deschamps’ side to their knees.

“This squad has a big fu­ture, but we should have won this Euro and we didn’t,” said Griez­mann, who fin­ished as the tour­na­ment’s top scorer with six goals.

“We are very sad, a bit an­noyed, but that’s foot­ball. Some­times it gives, some­times it takes away. We have to come back stronger and be ready for the World Cup qual­i­fiers.”

While France’s de­feat crushed the dreams of a na­tion, it at least had the merit not to be ac­com­pa­nied by the player con­tro­ver­sies that have plagued the team in tour­na­ments past.

France no­to­ri­ously went on strike at the 2010 World Cup in protest at the ex­pul­sion of striker Ni­co­las Anelka for in­sult­ing coach Ray­mond Domenech, while sev­eral play­ers were pun­ished for bad be­hav­iour at Euro 2012.

But Deschamps, who suc­ceeded Lau­rent Blanc in 2012, has suc­ceeded in re­pair­ing the team’s im­age and since over­turn­ing a 2-0 deficit to beat Ukraine in a qual­i­fy­ing play-off ahead of the 2014 World Cup, they have en­joyed a high level of pop­u­lar­ity in France.

“You ob­vi­ously have re­grets when you lose a fi­nal, but there’s pride as well,” said mid­fielder Blaise Ma­tu­idi.

“It was good to have brought to­gether the French peo­ple, to see the ex­cite­ment around the team, the joy and the hap­pi­ness from peo­ple who love foot­ball and peo­ple who fell in love with it thanks to our work.”

Deschamps and the French Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion made a bold pre-tour­na­ment de­ci­sion to drop Karim Ben­zema after he was charged over a plot to black­mail in­ter­na­tional team­mate Mathieu Val­buena over a sex­tape.

It was a move that was vin­di­cated as France, spear­headed by Griez­mann, romped to the fi­nal, only to fall short at the last.

Griez­mann, 25, has now lost two ma­jor fi­nals in two months, hav­ing been on the los­ing side as Atletico Madrid fell to Real Madrid in May’s Cham­pi­ons League de­cider, but he was the tour­na­ment’s un­ques­tion­able poster boy.

Other young play­ers to catch the eye in­cluded 22-year-old Samuel Umtiti, the Barcelona new re­cruit who took Adil Rami’s place at cen­tre-back, and 20-year-old Bay­ern Mu­nich winger Kings­ley Co­man, who made a lively cameo in the fi­nal.

Moussa Sis­soko, the New­cas­tle United mid­fielder, and West Ham United’s Dim­itri Payet also staked strong claims for per­ma­nent roles in the start­ing XI, the for­mer pro­duc­ing a stirring dis­play in the fi­nal.

But Juventus star Paul Pogba squan­dered an op­por­tu­nity to con­firm his sta­tus as the game’s pre-em­i­nent mid­field player, con­spic­u­ously fail­ing to stamp his name on the tour­na­ment.

Manch­ester United for­ward An­thony Mar­tial, mean­while, played for only the last 10 min­utes of the fi­nal after be­ing hauled off at half-time of France’s sec­ond game against Al­ba­nia.

With Pa­trice Evra now 35 and Bacary Sagna 33, there is likely to be turnover in the full-back ar­eas sooner rather than later.

But Deschamps will wel­come back sev­eral strong char­ac­ters dur­ing World Cup qual­i­fy­ing, in­clud­ing three cen­tre-backs – Raphael Varane, Ma­madou Sakho and Jeremy Mathieu – who all missed the tour­na­ment.

“Two years ago we got to a [World Cup] quar­ter-fi­nal, to­day we are fi­nal­ists. The young play­ers have pro­gressed,” said Deschamps, whose con­tract ex­pires in 2018. –

Photo: EPA

Pa­trice Evra, left, and Paul Pogba, leave the pitch in a daze after los­ing.

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