Euro 2016

France seek consistency

Home team's erratic performances worry Deschamps as he wants more polish

GROUP A

France 0
Switzerland 0

LILLE • Like the pitch at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, France are distinctly patchy. Like Switzerland's shirts, they do not appear to be quite as well-made as first believed.

And, like the match ball, even as they secured first place in Group A with a 0-0 draw in Lille on Sunday, they ended the evening more than a little deflated.

The draw for Euro 2016 has provided the hosts with the gentlest of slopes.

It paired them with Romania, Albania and the Swiss. In the last 16, they will face a team who finished third in their pool. Survive that, and in the quarter-finals, they will run into the runners-up from either Group B or Group F.

They have been given such an easy path that a cynic might think it was pre-arranged.

 "We need him at the top level."
Paul Pogba (top) of France sails over Breel Embolo of Switzerland on Sunday. While Pogba stamped his presence only on the first half of the game, France manager Didier Deschamps acknowledged: "We need him at the top level." PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

  • State Of Play

  • RESULTS

    GROUP A 

    France 0 Switzerland 0 

    Albania 1 Romania 0

    FIXTURES

    GROUP C 

    11.50pm 

    Ukraine v Poland
    Singtel TV Ch 141 & StarHub Ch 221

    Northern Ireland v Germany
    Ch 142 & Ch220

    GROUP D 

    Tomorrow, 2.50am

    Czech Republic v Turkey
    Ch141 & Ch221 

    Croatia v Spain 
    Ch142 & Ch220

And yet, for all the rich talent at Didier Deschamps' disposal, their journey so far has been far more arduous than anyone might have expected.

Late goals saw off Romania and Albania; after a brief early flurry, they seemed entirely content to share a mutually convenient stalemate with Switzerland which cemented their place in the quarter-finals.

"The goal is reached," Deschamps said. "But I am not blind. I know we can do things better."

It was not, in other words, an evening when anyone covered themselves in glory.

If anyone came close, it was Paul Pogba, the player who was supposed to be France's standard-bearer and inspiration but who has, over the past week, found the gaze of the limelight rather more searching than expected.

After a poor opening game against Romania, the 23-year-old, playing on the left, showed his class in Lille - ripping the Swiss midfield apart and striking the bar twice in the opening 20 minutes.

He faded away in the second half, just like the rest of the team, especially when shifted back to the right. But he showed no performance anxiety and the crowd chanted the name of their hero who is starting to find his feet.

"We need him at the top level," Deschamps said. "He was the life force of the match in the first half. He is a player with huge potential, and I have confidence in him. He was much better than he was in the first game. I trust him."

Deschamps was also impressed with Moussa Sissoko, who served notice that he can bring drive and dynamism to the Euro 2016 hosts' problematic midfield.

Aligned alongside Yohan Cabaye and Pogba in a three-man midfield, the 26-year-old Newcastle United player shone with his driving runs and pace, and his inclusion on the right allowed Pogba to excel in his preferred left-sided role.

With Blaise Matuidi struggling for form, Sissoko has given Deschamps food for thought.

Said the coach: "I know what he's capable of doing. He's always done it for us, whether it's five minutes, 10 minutes or a half. He brings a lot. Picking him to start (against Switzerland) doesn't mean I won't do it again."

With Pogba in that form and more of the same from Dmitri Payet, who excelled in their opening two matches, France, now almost certain to keep relying on a 4-3-3 formation that is working much better, could step up a gear in the knockout stages.

With the pair of Laurent Koscielny and Adil Rami now looking safer after showing signs of nerves in warm-up games and against Romania, the defence is less of a worry for Deschamps, even if left-back Patrice Evra is looking his age and might be targeted by opponents to come.

It is to their credit that, in the face of a solid French performance, the Swiss did not crumble. They, too, are slowly finding their feet.

Fabian Schar could have given them the lead early on, if only Johan Djourou, his team-mate, had not chosen to block his header on the line, while Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami crunched into France's midfield.

Once Pogba's early charge had subsided, the French were only able to break through the Swiss lines occasionally.

THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2016, with the headline 'France seek consistency'. Print Edition | Subscribe