Euro 2016 | The losers

'Immense' pain to be World Cup impetus

France fans react at the fan zone after their team lost to Portugal in the Portugal v France Euro 2016 final soccer match in Paris, France, July 10.
France fans react at the fan zone after their team lost to Portugal in the Portugal v France Euro 2016 final soccer match in Paris, France, July 10.PHOTO: REUTERS

Deschamps' rebuilding process to continue, and 2018 looms as a chance to prove pedigree

PARIS • When the final whistle went in Paris, the disappointment of France's Euro 2016 loss to Portugal on Sunday cut deep among its players, coaching staff and fans.

"The disappointment is there and it's immense. We've let a big chance to be champions pass us by," coach Didier Deschamps told French television channel M6 at Stade de France after the match.

"You need time to digest it. We suffered together, we won together, and in the end we lose together. It's difficult, but it's like that.

"It would have been magnificent to offer our fans this trophy, at home, but it's not the case in the end."

Yet, there is optimism among the French fans that, after almost 10 years in the wilderness, the national side looks ready to challenge for the World Cup in two years' time.

Having come into the tournament with few expecting them to go beyond the semi-finals, let alone defeat Germany for the first time in a competitive game in 58 years, they managed to exceed expectations and lay solid foundations.

"You obviously have regrets when you lose a final, but there's pride as well," said midfielder Blaise Matuidi.

"It was good to have brought together the French people, to see the excitement around the team, the joy and the happiness from people who love football and people who fell in love with it thanks to our work."

While France's defeat crushed the dreams of a nation, it at least had the merit not to be accompanied by the player controversies that have plagued the team in past tournaments.

France notoriously went on strike at the 2010 World Cup in protest at the expulsion of striker Nicolas Anelka for insulting coach Raymond Domenech, while several players were also punished for bad behaviour at Euro 2012.

However, this squad have won the hearts of the fans, not least of all Antoine Griezmann, whose six goals have made him the poster boy for the tournament.

Other young players to catch the eye included 22-year-old Samuel Umtiti, the Barcelona new recruit who took Adil Rami's place at centre-back, and 20-year-old Bayern Munich winger Kingsley Coman, who made a lively cameo in the final.

Newcastle's Moussa Sissoko and West Ham's Dimitri Payet also staked strong claims for permanent roles in the starting XI, but Paul Pogba squandered an opportunity to confirm his status as the game's pre-eminent midfield player, conspicuously failing to stamp his name on the tournament.

The Juventus star's flashes of brilliance were too intermittent but, at 23, he has his best years ahead of him and could be the man who drives this France team forward.

With Patrice Evra now 35 and Bacary Sagna 33, there is likely to be turnover in the full-back areas sooner rather than later.

But Deschamps will welcome back several strong characters during World Cup qualifying, including three centre-backs - Raphael Varane, Mamadou Sakho and Jeremy Mathieu - who all missed the tournament.

The final defeat by Portugal, while cruel in its manner, highlighted that France's young guns still need to mature after coming up against a more savvy opponent.

Nevertheless, Deschamps said: "Two years ago we got to a (World Cup) quarter-final, today we are finalists. The young players have progressed.

"We've had 50 days together since the beginning (mid-May), with an extraordinary group.

"It's hard to be optimistic tonight, but it augurs well for the future and hopefully it will be exciting."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline ''Immense' pain to be World Cup impetus'. Print Edition | Subscribe