Hampered by a lack of competitive fixtures, hosts France are something of an unknown quantity.
Les Bleus have plenty of talent at their disposal as they prepare to host next summer’s 24-team tournament. But their lack of competitive action makes it hard to judge their chances.
France face the perennial problem of tournament hosts – they have played only friendly matches since their World Cup quarter-final defeat by Germany. But coach Didier Deschamps insists it is not a problem as, in the past year, France have played Spain, Belgium, Portugal and Brazil, with England, Germany, Holland and Russia lined up in the coming months.
This summer, Deschamps saw young French talent fetch big money in the transfer market: Anthony Martial cost Manchester United £36m while Inter paid £26m for Geoffrey Kondogbia. Those moves, and a number of others, have the potential to unsettle Deschamps’ squad.
Lyon starlet Nabil Fekir’s knee injury could sideline him next summer, giving Deschamps the chance to try other options. The final squad is far from decided.
France’s most talented player of recent times, Franck Ribery will play no part next summer. The Bayern Munich winger, who missed the 2014 World Cup through injury, was criticised by Michel Platini for his international retirement but is sticking
to his decision.
France’s default formation in most of their friendlies since the World Cup has been 4-2-3-1, but without Paul Pogba 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2 have also been tried. Yohan Cabaye, Kondogbia or Moussa Sissoko could come into a three-man midfield allowing Antoine Griezmann and Mathieu Valbuena to move further forward.
One way or another, the next few months are going to be crucial for the long-term prospects of the 24-year-old.
Despite enjoying plenty of playing time for his country over the past 18 months, the Atletico Madrid attacker has yet to fully convince for Les Bleus – often accused of only delivering in short spells – and there have been times when Didier Deschamps has appeared to be losing patience.
During a press conference this spring, coach Deschamps intimated Griezmann was not always as focused as he should be. He criticised him again following the 4-3 loss at home to Belgium in June. And for the first fixture of this season, a friendly in Portugal, he dropped him to make room for Lyon’s Nabil Fekir, who just 14 minutes into his debut was carried off with ruptured cruciate ligaments.
As a sub for Fekir that night, Griezmann did well, and three days later he sparkled in the 2-1 victory over Serbia. But he has to be aware he can take nothing for granted. Deschamps is a tough cookie and no respecter of names or reputations.
Not that Griezmann is entirely to blame for his problems with the national side. With the shape and personnel of the side in a state of flux, many would-be Euro 2016 participants are struggling to find their bearings. And while the coach insists on playing Griezmann in wide positions, he is undoubtedly far more effective in his Atletico role of second striker.
The French football public can only hope that Griezmann proves as resilient with the national team as he was at Atletico last season, his first in the red-and-white stripes of the Colchoneros. Brought in for €30million from Real Sociedad, initially he could not put a foot right, forever incurring the wrath of coach Diego Simeone. However, he stuck to his task and managed to spectacularly turn it around, ending up third in the Liga scoring charts with 22 goals, the same number as Barcelona’s Neymar.
Definitely one to persevere with, Didier.
The Juventus star is developing into one of the world’s finest midfield all-rounders.
France’s 1998 World Cup-winning captain has steadied the ship since the 2010 World Cup and extended his contract until 2018.