Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, the three cornerstones of French Revolution, is the national motto of France. France as a nation is Fraternite but the France National Football team is more than Fraternite. As one of the most successful nations at the UEFA European Football Championship, France arrives for the 16th edition of the tournament with a swagger befitting the World Champions. In what will be their 10th finals appearance in the competition, the two-time Champions will be looking to equal the records of Spain and Germany as the only teams to lift the trophy thrice. The Les Bleus will want to make amends this time around for the heartache of Euro’16 where they tragically lost to Portugal in the decider to an Eder’s extra-time goal in front of their home fans and on their own turf.
Didier Deschamps, the former France World Cup, and Euro Winner replaced Laurent Blanc as the Manager of the France National Team in 2012 and has slowly but steadily built a team worthy of the World Champions. When Didier Deschamps took charge of France, they were ranked 17th in FIFA rankings. The rise of France from a lowly 17th to the 2nd best team in World Football, reaching the Euro’16 finals and winning the 2018 World Cup en route, epitomize what Didier Deschamps is, as a manager, and how he has revamped France. Being a proven winner himself, he has instilled a winning mentality in this team and his approach of always putting the best interest of the team ahead of an individual has reaped dividends. Being World Champions, France cannot afford to get too complacent in this tournament and they need only look to their nation’s history for a reminder: “French Revolution is the ultimate modernist statement. Destroy Everything. Don’t build on the past as there is no past”. The Les Bleus will do well to remember their history.
Route to Qualification
As expected, France topped their Group H besting the likes of Turkey, Iceland, Albania, Andorra, and Moldova scoring a group-high 25 goals and conceding 6 in the process. Of the 10 games played, the Les Bleus defeated all other teams twice save for Turkey who drew one and inflicted the sole defeat they suffered in their push for qualification.
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Steve Mandanda (Olympique de Marseille), Mike Maignan (Lille OSC)
Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), Leo Dubois (Olympique Lyonnais), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea), Jules Kounde (Sevilla FC), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Clement Lenglet (FC Barcelona), Lucas Hernandez (FC Bayern Munich), Lucas Digne (Everton)
N’Golo Kante (Chelsea), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus FC), Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham Hotspur), Corentin Tolisso (FC Bayern Munich)
Antoine Griezmann (FC Barcelona), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Kingsley Coman (FC Bayern Munich), Thomas Lemar (Atletico Madrid), Marcus Thuram (Borussia Monchengladbach), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Olivier Giroud (Chelsea), Wissam Ben Yedder (AS Monaco), Ousmane Dembele (FC Barcelona).
After bursting onto the scene with AS Monaco at the tender age of 17, Kylian Mbappe was quickly dubbed as the next big thing in World Football, the Messi or Ronaldo for an entirely new era of fans. His transfer to PSG from AS Monaco made him the most expensive teenager of all time in football history. It was with this tagline that Mbappe arrived on the International stage and his arrival was nothing short of a superstar’s coming of age party. In his first major global tournament, the World Cup of 2018, Mbappe quickly established himself as one of the bright young faces leading a star-studded France National team. Alongside established stars like Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, Mbappe didn’t just hold his own, he showed why he’s the team’s best player despite his inexperience. The precocious Parisian became the first teenager to score a brace in the World Cup finals since Pele in 1958 when he helped Les Bleus knock out Lionel Messi’s Argentina. Now, at 22, Mbappe is an international star and not just a star, he’s the dynamic superstar who succeeded where both Messi and Ronaldo have failed: bring home a World Cup. When his PSG met Barcelona in the knockout stages of last season’s Champions League, the sight of Mbappe steaming away as veteran defender Gerard Pique desperately clutched a handful of his shirt quickly became the defining image of the game. His lightning pace and flawless finishing will torment many a defence in the upcoming Euro and he will be the catalyst that propels France towards glory. Already records are tumbling like ninepins before the Parisian who is rewriting history and carving a legacy of his own. Who knows, this Euro could well add to his booming legacy.
Strength: A Formidable Attack
Didier Deschamps decision to recall Karim Benzema back into the fold has sparked an online frenzy among the football community and the furore is yet to die down. The return of Karim Benzema after a six-year hiatus was the major talking point across all the Euro 2020 squad announcements. His inclusion has whetted the appetite for the type of delicious football France may play this summer. The trio of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, and Karim Benzema will be one of the most coveted attacks in the tournament. Antoine Griezmann will be looking to repeat his heroics of last Euro, where he was named the Player of the Tournament. The terrific trio upfront will be complemented by the dynamic duo of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante in the middle. The omnipresent N’Golo Kante, with his relentless work rate, will be tasked with disrupting the opponent’s attacks and retrieving possession and Paul Pogba, with his ingenious passing skills, will dictate the tempo of the game. France has retained the core of the 2018 World Cup-winning team with 8 of 2021’s favoured starting XI being the first choices en route to World Cup victory. The Les Bleus will be hoping for a repeat of fortunes.
Weakness: Flawless or Flaw Less?
Is there a weakness in this formidable Les Bleus line-up that their opponents can exploit? It seems there is. Two flaws stick out in this seemingly flawless squad. The left-sided centre-back position is a potential weakness. At his best Kimpembe is majestic, but his form has faltered in 2021. Recent evidence suggests that France’s no.1 choice in the position is likely to wobble. Clement Lenglet, the alternative, didn’t have the best of domestic campaigns and inspires even less confidence. The lack of depth in midfield is the other shortcoming. There are only 5 midfielders in their entire squad. The back-ups to Kante and Pogba are Tolisso, Rabiot and Moussa Sissoko. Sissoko often being an unchallenged selection says it all. The fitness of Kante and Pogba will be vital in France’s push for glory. This area of the squad was also thin at the World Cup. Kante and Pogba was the starting duo with Steven N’Zonzi the first-choice back-up. A lack of quality cover was no barrier then and it may not be again. Yet losing Kante or Pogba at any stage of the tournament would be perilous for France.
Will History Repeat Itself?
Apart from these concerns, the French side is in ideal shape. They have quality and experience, a manager with a peerless track record, and the Benzema factor. France enters the tournament as the team to beat. As current World Champions, the Les Bleus knows that greatness comes with expectations, and the weight of expectations is greater than ever. Although placed in the group of death alongside Germany and Portugal, France are predicted to go through. A semi-final berth will be the bare minimum of expectations whereas a place in the final is what is demanded of them. The current runners-up will be looking to go one better this time. The last time France became World Champions (1998), they won the successive Euro (2000). Didier Deschamps, coincidentally, was part of the squad on both occasions. The Les Bleus are the current World Champions and this is the successive Euro. Didier Deschamps and France will be praying for history to repeat itself and as we know, more often than not, history does tend to repeat itself.