When the dust finally settled at the Parc des Princes in Paris Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal were holding the European Championship trophy while the hosts were left holding their heads. At the end of the day France, a team with much talent and flair, was just the latest victim to Portugal’s sweltering defense and very unattractive style of play.
The question now becomes, what lies ahead for France. How does their future look?
The answer is very bright, at least for the team.
It may not be so bright for manager Didier Deschamps. As the tournament continued on it became clear that France made their run all the way to the final in spite of their manager, not because of him. All tournament long Deschamps seemed to get everything wrong. Tactically he never seemed to find the right lineup or formation, despite having an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. At the beginning stages of the tournament he insisted on deploying his best player, Antoine Griezemann out wide. He only moved Griezemann into his most effective central position in the quarterfinals when France played Iceland, and that move was only out of necessity due to the suspension of midfielder N’Golo Kante.
That wasn’t the only odd choice he made. He kept midfielder Paul Pogba, the subject of a possible £100 million transfer for Manchester United, confined to a defensive midfield role, a position that doesn’t suit Pogba and doesn’t allow him to be at his best. And there was his insistence on starting Olivier Giroud in the middle, despite the fact that the rest of the French team was built to accommodate a player with the skill set of a player like Anthony Martial.
This isn’t to say Martial is a better player than Giroud, but his skill set fit the French team far better than Giroud’s. Martial was given one start in the second group match of the tournament. After a poor first half he wasn’t heard from again until the last 10 minutes of the final.
As for the actual French squad we can only expect more great things to come.
France entered Euro 2016 as a team surrounded by question marks. No one knew what to think of France as the team hadn’t played a competitive game since the 2014 World Cup and the squad that played in that match looked drastically different from the one that would be hosting the tournament this summer.
What France discovered was that they had a very talented squad made up of a combination of late bloomers and young stars that will only get better. Nearly every question that was asked of them was answered in a positive way and the squad is in great position to be one of the world’s dominant teams for the next few years. Of the starters on the field at Euro 2016, only three of them were aged 30 or above.
As for the rest of the squad, they are incredibly young. Blaise Matuidi is the old man of the midfield at 29, but even if he can’t play every game at the 2018 World Cup, Paul Pogba (23) and N’Golo Kante (25) are more than capable of picking up the slack.
Up top France are in an even better position. Olivier Giroud is what he is, but at 29 years old he’s more on his way out of the France team on his way in. That may be a good thing as France has an abundance of players they need to get in the squad. Star of the tournament Antoine Griezemann is just hitting his prime at 25 years old, while Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman are both just 20 years old. Martial and Coman are both playing for major clubs in Europe (Manchester United and Bayern Munich) and will only get better.
The biggest plus for France came at the back. Heading in to the tournament it was France’s defense that was seen as the teams weak link. This only got more scrutinized when Adil Rami picked up a suspension for the quarterfinal match against Iceland forcing in uncapped 22 year old Samuel Umtiti. Umtiti didn’t just hold his own against Iceland, he stole Rami’s place, starting the final three games of the tournament and looking like a seasoned vet.
Going forward France will welcome back injured 23 year old defender Raphael Verane, giving Les Blues a very formidable defense for years to come.
This is a young French team with some of the best players in Europe either right in the middle of their prime or about to enter it. They didn’t make the Euro 2016 final simply by riding a home field advantage, they made it because of skill.
The future is very bright for this squad. They’ve already become arguably one of the three best teams in the world and don’t be surprised if you see them right back in the final at the 2018 World Cup.