Less than two months after claiming a second World Cup title, no wonder France is still in a partying mood.
After a summer of euphoria, Didier Deschamps’ players didn’t look ready against Germany in the teams’ opening UEFA Nations League match, which ended in a goalless draw. The French were on the back foot for long spells and avoided defeat only thanks to a series of outstanding saves from Paris Saint-Germain `keeper Alphonse Areola.
Thursday’s game in Munich was France’s first match since it beat Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup final in Moscow in July. Deschamps’ team kept the same style of play based on solid defending and counterattacks as in Russia, with not as much efficiency. Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante worked well in midfield but France’s attacking players Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann did not find each other, and did not look sharp enough.
“We wanted to come back with a win, but I think we are not ready, both physically and mentally,” Pogba said. “This is not easy following a World Cup like the one we did. We quickly got back to work, we would have needed more time to recover. But that’s football, we need to move on to something else and find new challenges.”
Next on the plate of Pogba and co. is the Netherlands, on Sunday at the Stade de France. Although the Nations League match against the Dutch has the ingredients required to be competitive _ the Netherlands have missed out on both the 2016 European Championship and the World Cup and are eager to prove themselves against the world champions _ the atmosphere in Saint-Denis will feel more like a celebration.
France’s players were treated like heroes on their return from Russia but were somewhat frustrated that their parade on the Champs Elysees on an open-top bus was limited to less than 15 minutes. Sunday’s match will give them a chance to celebrate properly in front of some 80,000 fans, and that’s one of the reasons why Deschamps wanted to keep his squad unchanged for the two September games, despite the poor form of some players.
The 23 world champions, including the injured Hugo Lloris and Steve Mandanda, will be at the Stade de France to attend the ceremony that will start right after the game, whatever its result. The French football federation said the sound and light show will consist of the France players introduced one by one before a lap of honor with the World Cup trophy.
Then it may well be times for changes.
“Newcomers could join us, and other players could return to the team,” Deschamps said this week when asked about the future of the World Cup squad. “We are supervising about 50 players and the door is not closed to anyone.”
Deschamps has the reputation of being conservative in his choices, yet only nine of the French players who featured at the 2016 European Championship two years ago took part in the World Cup campaign.
Up front, Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud, who has not scored in his last 10 matches with France, could soon be in danger of losing his spot, to the benefit of players like Alexandre Lacazette, Kingsley Coman and Moussa Dembele.
In defense, Marseille center-back Adil Rami has been struggling recently, while Everton duo Kurt Zouma and Lucas Digne are making compelling cases for a return. It also remains to be seen whether defenders Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, who revealed themselves during the tournament, will be able to retain their starting spots at the expense of Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy.
In the long term, Areola looks also set to become the heir to Lloris when the Tottenham goalie calls time on his international career. “You can expect everything,” Deschamps said.