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Sacre Bleu: France future set to be shaped by Portugal pain

Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | July 11, 2016

Have Les Bleus blown it?

“We must not throw everything that we’ve done away, but we threw away a great chance to be European champions; not the only one, but a great one.”

The verdict of a dejected Didier Deschamps as the France national boss and former captain saw his charges lose the Euro 2016 final to Portugal in extra time.

While the irony of the Navigators doing to Les Bleus what happened to them at the hands of Greece when Portugal hosted the Euros in 2004 should not be lost on anyone, some questions about the future are naturally raised.

Falling just short of rewards

Euro 2016 - Christiano Ronaldo and Portugal Soccer team celebrates the victory - Paris

Deschamps has been France coach since succeeding former teammate Laurent Blanc after Euro 2012, but would not be drawn into speculation about his position in the immediate aftermath of defeat in St-Denis by Fernando Santos’ side.

“I’m not going to think about myself tonight,” Deschamps insisted. “I’ll need some time to really digest this. They are young players who have progressed and I’m very proud of everything this group has achieved.

“We weren’t rewarded, but I’ve had an incredible group to work with and I’m very sad for them. This is not the end of the road.

“Although we’re optimistic, it’s hard to be so tonight, but it does lead us to think there will be better days ahead and an exciting future.”

Pogba doesn’t perform

L’Equipe, widely regarded as one of the leading French sporting publications, splashed with a banner headline that translates into English as “overwhelmed”, picturing Euro 2016 poster boy Paul Pogba with his shirt pulled over his head to hide his tears.

Portugal v France - UEFA Euro 2016 - Final - Stade de France

Reportedly set to join Manchester United for a world record fee of £100m, a price even Real Madrid are understood to have baulked at; Juventus’ midfield maestro did not exactly deliver during the tournament on home stage that he was billed to make his own.

None of the stellar names proved the difference in the Stade de France. Instead, it fell to Swansea City reject Eder to score the winner.

French connection an ensemble cast

Pogba was particularly disappointing, though. Easily the most dynamic of Les Bleus’ midfield options, others around him made bigger impressions, most notably in the final Moussa Sissoko – a player relegated from the Premier League with Newcastle United.

Late goals that propelled France through early encounters came from Dimitri Payet, a player that only really established himself in Deschamps’ thinking after his exploits with West Ham United this past season.

EURO 2016 - France v Portugal

Antoine Griezmann shouldered the bulk of the goal burden, netting the same tally (six) that fellow attackers Payet and Olivier Giroud managed between them.

Man Utd paying premium for Pogba?

Grabbing a sole goal against Iceland with a set-piece header was Pogba, but Deschamps’ decision to drop him during the group stage shows how the golden boy of French football still has some maturing to do.

Spending such a huge rumoured sum looks like a classic case of an inflated price on an over-hyped player, if indeed Pogba is purchased and brought back to Old Trafford.

One of many in Les Bleus ranks that will be part of the furniture for years to come as Deschamps outlined, there are certain parts of the French connection that need renewal.

Full backs not forwards an issue for France

France v Iceland - UEFA Euro 2016 - Quarter Final - Stade de France

You can make a case that younger legs may be required up front, but Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud and Mexico-based Andre-Pierre Gignac will only be in their early 30s come the next World Cup.

There is enough talented attackers to serve France (10/1 with Coral to go one better in 2018) well for years to come, just not of the target man type.

It is Les Bleus’ full back berths that require a comprehensive overhaul, with Patrice Evra’s international career definitely done at 35 and Bacary Sagna also likely to call time aged 33.

Covering left back doesn’t look too difficult, because of PSG-owned pair Lucas Digne and Layvin Kurzawa, but the other flank of defence may be an issue. Christophe Jallet, who has been understudy to Sagna for a while, is only a year younger.

Defensive dearth didn’t prove a problem

France v Iceland - UEFA Euro 2016 - Quarter Final - Stade de France

France reaching the final is all the more remarkable when you remember how many options at centre half were sidelined. While that crisis proved the perfect opportunity for Barcelona-bound left-footer Samuel Umtiti to demonstrate his credentials, the competition when everyone is fit will be cut-throat.

Regular starter Laurent Koscielny could see his place come under threat, with late call-up Adil Rami surely set to be discarded. The likes of Kurt Zouma and uncapped Aymeric Laporte will return from long-term injuries on the road to Russia, while Raphael Varane and Mamadou Sakho may be back in the fold.

What’s clear is on the whole this French team, especially the midfield, should remain in place for a tilt at global glory in two years’ time – provided Les Bleus can handle the Netherlands being in their qualifying group.

This shared experience of Portugal pain on home soil can bond them closer together, as indeed Euro 2016 did for France the nation.

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