Crop of forwards mean France will do fine sans Benzema at Euro 2016
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | Updated April 14, 2016
One commentator could hardly have described the Karim Benzema-Mathieu Valbuena alleged blackmail scandal better, referring to it is as a seedy little drama going on in the background to France hosting Euro 2016.
Bad boy Benzema banned for Euros?
Definitive action has been taken by the French Football Federation this week; Real Madrid frontman Benzema will not be at the tournament finals on home soil next summer.
Coral make Les Bleus narrow 11/4 favourites to win Euro 2016, ahead of World Cup holders Germany. It is not the first time Benzema has missed an international tournament either.
Raymond Domenech may have been a France boss worthy of ridicule for his reported selections of players based on star-signs, but he left Benzema off his 2010 World Cup roster because of a lack of form.
That was his first season at Real Madrid when he managed just nine goals, and may be cast by the passage of time as a little harsh following a big money move from hometown team Lyon in the summer of 2009.
Benzema has 25 in 29 Los Blancos appearances across all competitions this term at the time the FFF made the decision to leave him out of Euro 2016.
Giroud and Gignac do same job
While displays like his Champions League group stage hat-trick in the 8-0 mauling of Malmo this past autumn could easily be portrayed as the player making a point and underlining his obvious qualities, Benzema’s treble came in a dead rubber match. He isn’t the only France centre forward to take home a European matchball or win a big tie either.
Olivier Giroud’s first Arsenal hat-trick ensured the Gunners defy the odds and advanced yet again to the knockout phase. While they progressed no further than the Champions League last 16 that has become a customary point to bow out, and Giroud has since lost his place in the Gunners XI, he still has 20 goals for the season.
Current Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps has always had two target men to choose from to lead his attack – make that three if Andre-Pierre Gignac is to be factored in after an eyebrow-raising move to Mexican football from Marseille.
From a physical standpoint, then, France can do without Benzema, but there is also more to their play than having a 6ft-plus striker flicking balls on and bringing midfield runners – like Paul Pogba among others – into the game.
Deschamps can count on next generation
There’s a cadre of attacking talents aged 24 or under who all have the potential to bring that X-factor to Les Bleus at Euro 2016.
Injuries to Lyon’s Nabil Fekir and Rennes winger Paul-Georges Ntep may mean they miss the final cut for the tournament, but consistent Atletico Madrid performer Antoine Griezmann leads this crop of cunning forwards that can supply the frontman or chip in themselves.
Now 25, Griezmann needs one more to break the 30-goal barrier in what is his best-ever scoring season. He is a major factor in Atleti maintaining themselves as a force in Spain, despite the loss of Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa in recent years, and bagged a tie-winning brace as Diego Simeone’s side knocked Champions League holders Barcelona out in the quarter-finals.
Lacazette worth another look
Whether or not punters’ curiosity were piqued by Gary Neville’s managerial debut, as Valencia lost to Lyon in the Champions League; one eye-catching performance to come out of the already eliminated Kids was Alexandre Lacazette.
Like Griezmann, the striker is one that can comfortably pull out wide in search of space or possession, and that is evidence of Lacazette developing better teamwork skills after his individual brilliance catapulted Lyon back among Europe’s elite.
To replicate last term’s return of 31 goals does look rather fanciful at this late stage in the campaign, having struck 18 times this season to date, yet Lacazette oozed class by rounding off the Kids’ victory at the Mestalla.
Much closer to home for British audiences is Manchester United summer signing Anthony Martial, who at just 20 is bearing plenty of the scoring burden at Old Trafford. He’s averaging around a goal every three games, and slaloming runs off the flanks to net from tight angles are already a trademark.
Deschamps, like Red Devils boss Louis van Gaal, has certainly bought into Martial, capping him regularly since his senior France debut in September. The forward has had his best-ever campaign in front of goal with 13 for United
Martial might just be the perfect impact sub for his country, as he will stretch tired legs during the last half hour of games. It is a role he ought to relish while he continues to develop and establish himself.
Ribery can mentor Munich prospect
Kingsley Coman could be the one that got away for Ligue 1 heavyweights PSG, who know they face a watershed with Euro 2016. Parc des Princes and Sweden star turn Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s contract is up during the tournament, yet teenage winger Coman is one forward player that had move out of the considerable shade he casts in order to blossom.
Ibrahimovic has been a goal machine for the French champions; his return of close to 150 goals in around 175 games has dwarfed the contributions of other expensive arrivals such as Edinson Cavani and Lucas Moura.
Coman, meanwhile, was on the fringes during Juventus’ Coppa Italia and Serie A double-winning campaign last term, so Bayern Munich were allowed to take him on loan this summer.
Bavaria has been the home of some French cult heroes, including Valerien Ismael, Bixente Lizarazu and Willy Sagnol. Current Bayern player Franck Ribery, now an ageing wideman at 32 that has served the German giants since 2007, can be Coman’s Allianz Arena mentor, despite his controversial past.
Les Bleus can count on Coman
Munich manager Pep Guardiola has been prepared to play the youngster, though there is the question of whether this has been by design or through necessity with so many injuries to contend with. If all of Ribery, Arjen Robben and Mario Gotze had been fully fit throughout this season, then Coman wouldn’t have enjoyed so much football.
It’s not just about goals with Coman, in stark contrast to the other forwards discussed above. His impact at Bayern in the midst of an autumn injury crisis has been all-round. At one stage netting three in nine Bundesliga matches, he’s also laid on five assists in four Champions League group stage outings.
With seasonal tallies of a half a dozen goals and 11 assists, this hasn’t escaped the notice of national boss Deschamps, who fast-tracked Coman into the senior Les Bleus setup, despite him not turning 20 until after the tournament hosts have played the Euro 2016 opener.
France, in the immediate aftermath of record scorer Thierry Henry’s international retirement following the 2010 World Cup, looked heavily reliant on Benzema, but now his absence from Euro 2016 could easily be just a footnote.
What does Coral football ambassador Alan Shearer make of France’s chances for the Euros? He has his say below:
Coral’s Euro 2016 section is well worth a visit, as we’ve provided full coverage of qualifying and are now looking ahead to the tournament finals!