Having reached the final of Euro 2016, and having won the World Cup two years later, it’s no surprise that the vast majority of football fans were backing France in the UEFA Euro 2020 winner odds. After all, they had arguably the strongest squad on paper, and although there were a couple of wobbles in the group stage, they still topped the group and had a seemingly favourable last-16 tie against Switzerland.
Most people hadn’t given the match much thought, as we all expected France to click into gear once they got to the knockout stage, and win comfortably against the Swiss. However, the lack of control which defined their group matches against Hungary and Portugal was manifest once again, and Switzerland controlled proceedings for large parts of the game, holding a 1-0 lead for nearly an hour, with Ricardo Rodriguez missing an opportunity to make it 2-0 from the penalty spot.
It had looked like France had found their form at last when Karim Benzema notched a quick double, and Paul Pogba curled in a delicious third. 3-1 and cruising, it was looking like job done for the French, but they just couldn’t shake Switzerland off, and two late goals brought the game to extra time, and victory for the Swiss on penalties.
So, what can we learn from France’s Euro 2020 exit? And more importantly, what can France themselves learn ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where they will be seeking to defend their crown. The first thing is not to get carried away with pre-tournament hype and expectation. When you looked at France’s squad before Euro 2020 began, it was packed with a plethora of stars — players who should be pulling together to create magical memories once again.
However, rumours of in-fighting and tension within the group — nothing new to the French national football team — reared their heads during the tournament, and it’s fair to say that France did not always look like a cohesive unit. The return of Benzema to the fold after being left out of the squad for the past six years was a bold move by manager Didier Deschamps, and while the Real Madrid striker was arguably France’s player of the tournament, there’s no doubt that his presence ruffled a few feathers.
Then there was the failure of France’s biggest players to perform, none more so than Kylian Mbappé. At 23 years of age, Euro 2020 was seen as the tournament for Mbappé to seize by the scruff of the neck, and make it memorable for his performances, but try as he might, the Paris Saint-Germain forward just couldn’t really get going, and failed to register a single goal in France’s four matches. Missing the crucial penalty in the shootout against Switzerland compounded a disappointing tournament.
It’s hard to know how France will approach Qatar 2022, or if Deschamps will still be the man in charge. While the expectations will be slightly lower following their early exit at Euro 2020, there will still be tremendous pressure on the team as defending world champions. France’s tournament pedigree over the last few years has bred an expectancy of success, and this summer’s team were arguably victims of that, failing to live up to the hype which surrounded them. Euro 2020 will always be the one that got away, now France must make sure that the 2022 World Cup does not end in a similarly gut-wrenching fashion.