France face 'Everest' with slippery shoes
France showed against Iceland they could score plenty of goals but their defence once again looked porous and is a real worry for coach Didier Deschamps before facing much tougher opponents in Germany for a place in the European Championship final.
“And now, Everest,” warned a headline in French sports daily L’Equipe yesterday after the 5-2 quarter-final win over the sensations of the tournament took France through to a semi-final battle with the world champions.
That headline summed up the task awaiting the host nation, who have firepower up front but do not look ideally equipped at the back for such a daunting challenge.
Leading 4-0 at halftime against Iceland, France dropped their guard in the second half, conceding two goals to allow their brave but limited opponents some consolation.
It was not the first time in the tournament that France’s defence showed signs of nerves and looked vulnerable, notably from set pieces.
Centre back Samuel Umtiti, winning his first cap in the absence of Adil Rami through suspension, was not totally assured and left back Patrice Evra, 35, looked his age with another sluggish display.
Coach Didier Deschamps, who lost his most reliable centre back in Raphael Varane through injury in the build-up to the finals, has several options. He could stick with Umtiti, bring back Rami or play Eliaquim Mangala.
Whoever partners Laurent Koscielny at the heart of the back line, France’s defence will clearly be their main weakness when they take on Germany on Thursday in Marseille.
Deschamps will have been satisfied with a few other things he saw on Sunday, notably the fact that his side scored plenty of goals and took the game to their opponents straight away, which they had failed to do in previous matches.
“We’re growing,” said striker Olivier Giroud, who scored twice and was named man of the match, yesterday. “This is good for our confidence. We had a problem with the way we started our games and that has been solved.
There are still some things we need to work and we’ll do that all together but yes, we are feeling good.”
Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet, who scored a fine goal each, also shone and Griezmann moved to the top of the scorers table with four goals.
France, chasing their third triumph at a major event on home soil after winning the 1984 European championship and 1998 World Cup, had set a place in the last four as their minimum goal.
It could be argued, however, that they are yet to face a top European nation and that whether this tournament is a success or a failure will depend on how they fare against Germany, who have a record for beating them in the knockout stages of major tournaments.
“We’re looking better but Germany remains Germany,” said Deschamps, whose side lost to the eventual winners in the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals, not to mention painful semi-final exits from the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.
“They are the best team in Europe and in the world.”