France team: chronicle of a shipwreck that nobody had seen coming

On the evening of the first victory in Munich (Germany) against the rival from beyond the Rhine, the future promised to be bright. During this victorious entry against Germany (1-0), thee June 15, the France team had made a very successful copy. Her ability to undergo without suffering and her ultra-realism reminded the competition of the forces that had guided her on the roof of the world in 2018.

With the fresh incorporation of Karim Benzema, the attack of the France team could even hope to be even more formidable than at the last World Cup, especially in its ability to combine in small spaces against grouped defenses. At the end of the first match of the group stage, the Blues were scary, at least more than the other favorites. The road to a double World Cup-European Championship seemed straight.

Thirteen days later, France has lost everything, from its hopes of a double to its certainties on the ground. Falling on penalties against the modest Switzerland (3-3, 4-5 tab), against whom she had not lost since May 1992 and never in major international competition, Didier Deschamps’ team stopped at early stage of the round of 16. After having dominated the “group of death”, ahead of Germany and Portugal, she fell into the trap set by an opponent who had prepared a coherent battle plan, unlike her.

>> The jewel of Pogba, the doubles of Benzema and Seferovic … The goals of France-Switzerland analyzed from all angles

At no time during this Euro, the France team was able to dominate an opponent from kick-off to the final whistle. Neither against Hungary or Switzerland nor against Germany or Portugal. It is only in the media that his mastery was expressed. While the leather was not getting its footing on the meadow, there was not the slightest false note off the pitch. “It is to the coach that you must ask the question “. During daily sanitized press conferences, the French internationals played easy level deminer. The fires were extinguished before they escalated, like the “trifle” between Kylian Mbappé and Olivier Giroud after the second preparation match against Bulgaria (3-0).

Deschamps has succeeded in padlocking the hotel rooms of his players, from Munich to Bucharest via Budapest. No night getaway or escapades. By exorcising the specter of the absence of Benzema, the coach envisaged before the start of the competition to raise a taste of unfinished business. The return to favor of the latter was less likely than a new coronation of the Blues. The knowing smiles at Clairefontaine on May 26 were to lead to the resolution of the last knot in the reign of “DD”, but everything suddenly fell apart.

If a decisive turning point has to be identified, it would most certainly be the long stay spent in Budapest. The Hungarian heatwave (35 ° C at 3 p.m.) during the draw against the Magyars (1-1) has washed away a group on the kneecaps after a very long and trying season. Like N’Golo Kanté, who was believed to be indestructible, most of the players declined physically over the matches. The physical glitches then accumulated. Ousmane Dembélé first left his teammates on June 21, then it was Lucas Digne, Lucas Hernandez, Jules Koundé, Marcus Thuram and Thomas Lemar who raised doubts as Deschamps racked his brains for his team compositions.

Didier Deschamps and the players of the France team during training at the Nandor stadium, on June 24 in Budapest (FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

By leaving their golden prison perched on the banks of the Danube, the Blues thought they would leave the troubles behind them. “It’s a new competition that begins“, repeated Hugo Lloris at will during each of his media appearances, projecting himself on the final phase. Failed. The drop in temperature and the Romanian reception will not have been enough to mask the shortcomings of a team ambitious but confused and never harmonious. Against Switzerland on Monday night, the attacking trio Griezmann-Benzema-Mbappé really found themselves for the first time. Bad luck, the defensive line drowned at the same time. times, the cogs did not interlock at the same time.

The biggest failure of the Blues during this Euro lies there, in this inability to operate the whole machine without part of the chain seizing up. The attacking trio therefore stood out against Switzerland, but did not have enough time after the return of Karim Benzema in Blue – just 112 minutes on the pitch together in the two preparation matches – to refine its automatisms.

On the defense side, the observation is cruel: of the seven defenders used by Didier Deschamps during this Euro, none have been faultless. Raphaël Varane and Presnel Kimpembe did not represent the expected base, Benjamin Pavard was the weak link in each of his appearances, Jules Koundé did not take his chance against Portugal, Clément Lenglet was catastrophic against the Swiss and Lucas Digne did not really convince on the left. Lucas Hernandez is the symbol of a hard-pressed defense. Generally so solid, the left side, diminished by physical glitches, failed against Portugal and displayed worrying instability.

After the warm-up game against the Welsh, who were quickly reduced to 10-11, Kimpembe complained about the lack of adversity: “I would have liked there to have been a bigger confrontation. (…) I would have liked to have been confronted with a few more problems to be a little more in the tough.” Even if Deschamps said the opposite, the Blues did not really have time to wet their necks before the start of the competition against the Welsh and Bulgarians.

The defensive strength of the Blues, which had been the basis of the title of world champion in 2018, was found missing during the stays in Budapest and Bucharest. “Our strength is our strength. We got it in the first game. (…) But the second goal of the Swiss made us a little more feverish and if they scored, it is because we made mistakes“, tried to explain Didier Deschamps in a press conference, after the elimination.

On waking up on Tuesday morning, the coach of the France team still had to wonder how this victory against Switzerland could pass through his hands. But during the competition, Didier Deschamps never seemed to master the situation perfectly, not once obtaining overall consistency from his team, from the goalkeeper to the top striker. A disavowal for the coach, yet not used to losing the common thread and who has long insisted during the preparation on the fact that the attacking trio, the midfielder and the defense, should all be intimately linked.

The crazy match and this elimination in the round of 16 against Switzerland revealed all these shortcomings and is representative of the trial and error of a Deschamps who opened up to change this year, without success. The coach of the Blues has agreed to bring back Adrien Rabiot and Karim Benzema, has modified his system several times in an attempt to “put the players in the best possible conditions “. But by moving the lines in this way, Deschamps has transformed a team that wins into a team that does not lose but no longer knows how to win.

Adrien Rabiot, N'Golo Kanté, Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba (from left to right) in training, Sunday, June 20, in Budapest.  (FRANCK FIFE / AFP)

No one is resistant to change and Deschamps has listened to criticism as he re-enters the Juventus midfielder and Real Madrid star striker. But this European Championship represents the first step back for Deschamps as boss of the Blues. After the world title three years ago, the Basque had no choice but to win the competition to avoid the risk of being downgraded. The bar was too high during this Euro.

From there to leave the bench of the Blues? “When things go less well, it’s also my responsibility, I assume it. It’s a painful moment even if it’s still football. We had the desire, the ambition and the strength to continue, but unfortunately it stops there and we have to accept it “, he defused Monday evening. Recently extended until the end of the 2022 World Cup, it seems unlikely that the manager will leave his post.

It remains to be seen how he will approach the rest: in the game of musical chairs between players, who will be the losers? Should the attacking trio continue to work on their automatisms? And above all, what will be the game ideas of this France team in the months to come, she who sorely lacked during this Euro? The only certainty at the exit of this competition is that Paul Pogba is the real boss of this team. Essential in his role of metronome in the midfield, clear and precise in his communication, technical leader on the pre and leader of the locker room outside during this Euro, Paul Pogba could be the one who will guide the French team to the Coupe du world 2022 in Qatar. A World Cup, in a year and a half, during which the Blues will aim for a third star to try to pass the pill of this premature exit.

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