France ran out comfortable 7-1 winners over Andriy Shevchenko’s Ukraine. The World Cup champions should defeat the 24th ranked team in the world but the ease with which they broke the usually resolute European nation is ominous. Didier Deschamps is famous for his rigidity in selections, but he set up an exciting team in the friendly match. Houssem Aouar and Edouardo Camavinga got their first starts and Marseille legend Steve Mandanda was the goalkeeper for the occasion.
There was also a start for Anthony Martial in front, alongside captain and centurion Olivier Giroud. The love affair between the coach and the target man continues. Lucas Digne started in the left-back spot ahead of either Mendys. Apart from some appearances from Lee Dubois, Benjamin Pavard owns the right-back spot for France. It is the only position where they are not spoilt for choices, but Pavard is a dependable player. Clement Lenglet and Dayot Upamecano was the central defensive pairing of the night.
Depth For Days
When Dayot Upamecano went off at half-time, Deschamps brought on Raphael Varane. When Anthony Martial went off, Kylian Mbappe came on. Their depth is unending as more talented French players keep developing in Ligue 1 and across Europe.
Aymeric Laporte is yet to make a senior appearance and the nation is indifferent. Presnel Kimpembe, Clement Lenglet, Lucas Hernandez, and Samuel Umtiti are just the top-notch left-sided, left-footed defenders that Les Bleus can call on. On the right side of central defense, they can call on Kurt Zouma, Raphael Varane, and Dayot Upamecano. They have a steady stream of young talents waiting on the side too. Jules Kounde, Benoit Badiashile, Axel Disasi, and Mohamed Simakan can all contribute if called upon. They have Ferland Mendy, Benjamin Mendy, and Lucas Digne to fight for the left-back spot. Hernandez can perform there too.
Their midfield options are inexhaustible. Houssem Aouar, Corentin Tolisso, Tanguy Ndombele, N’golo Kante, Edouardo Camavinga, Steven Nzonzi, Paul Pogba, and Moussa Sissoko can all stake claims for a spot. They have young gems like Rayan Cherki, Maxence Caqueret, Boubakary Soumare, and Matteo Guendouzi waiting on the side. Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Olivier Giroud, Wissam Ben Yedder, Antoine Griezmann, Alexandre Lacazette, and Anthony Martial complete a very deadly team. They are spoilt for top-level choices in most positions.
In Didier Deschamps, they have a tactician with clear ideas on how to get the job done. He is a man of principles, and he will only pick players that execute his ideas. His use of Giroud as the primary centre-forward is with a clear idea of functionality. His attacking ammunition varies in profile and style but chooses the players who understand his ideas. Giroud the focal point, and two attackers close to him to play off him. He has come under criticism for not allowing Karim Benzema back into the squad despite the striker hitting the peak form of his career since 2018. Zilch. His objectives are clear. The route to achieving the objectives is also very clear. He does not deviate from it. Whether he switches from a two at the back formation to a three at the back formation, his ideas on the pitch are very clear.
An Unstoppable Juggernaut
There is no national team pumping talent as good and as frequently as France. They ran riot so easily against Ukraine. Apart from a few shots in the first half from Ruslan Malinovskiy, nothing fazed the French side. The 4312 formation crowded the midfield and forced Ukraine out wide. The French full-backs and midfielders were able to collapse around the ball and win it. The midfielders were disciplined and orchestrated the game plan well.
Viktor Tsygankov of Dynamo Kyiv came on in the second half and his impact was immediate. The winger loves to drift in-field and cause havoc. It is surprising that a top team in Europe has not snapped the talented winger (over 100 g+a in 159 appearances). He took the ball and drove past Camavinga before firing past Mike Maignan who replaced Mandanda. For a few minutes, Ukraine looked like they would pull themselves together. He was at the center of the few minutes of attacking intent shown by Ukraine.
Zubkov rattled the side-netting a few minutes later. Momentum was shifting to the eastern Europeans, but the quality of the French side overwhelmed them. Deschamps exchanges Camavinga for Paul Pogba, he also brings on Antoine Griezmann for Aouar and the route continues. Griezmann’s pressing was vital for the rest of the game as they completed the route.
Pound for pound, there is no team that can offer the amount of individual quality that they have. As they continue in the Nations League and even the Euros, it is hard to envisage any team stopping them. They have only lost two out of the eighteen games they have played since they lifted the World Cup in 2018. A 2-0 loss to the Netherlands in the UEFA Nations League and another in the European Championship qualifying game against Turkey. France lost 2-0 too.
Is There No One Else?
With Germany struggling in defense and Netherlands adapting to a new coach, it is hard to see either mounting a serious title challenge at the Euros. Italy is still finding its feet under Roberto Mancini, but the European Championship might be asking for too much, too soon. Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo will always be a threat, and with talents like Joao Felix and Francisco Trincao, do not discount them. They also have an experienced manager at the helm in Fernando Santos and they know how to win.
Spain does not possess the quality that rippled through the team when they won the 2008 and 2012 editions of the tournament. They are light in quality attackers. Croatia, led by midfield maestro Luka Modric reached the finals of the World Cup but since then, the midfielder’s form has slumped due to age and injuries. Mario Mandzukic who spearheaded the attack is currently without a club. England boasts a healthy crop of talent but it is hard to trust them. They also have no discernable tactical ideas or a clear way of playing. France looks like the team to beat heading into the tournament.