The National Times - Could France's Euro 2024 exit mark end of an era?

Could France's Euro 2024 exit mark end of an era?

Could France's Euro 2024 exit mark end of an era?
Could France's Euro 2024 exit mark end of an era? / Photo: © AFP

France boast an enviable record in major tournaments over the last decade under Didier Deschamps but the manner of their exit from Euro 2024, despite reaching the semi-finals, suggests a fresh start might be no bad thing for Les Bleus.

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Tuesday's 2-1 defeat against Spain in Munich ended France's hopes of reaching a fourth final in the last five tournaments, European Championships and World Cups combined.

It was a disappointing end to a competition in which the French never caught fire, with Randal Kolo Muani's early goal to give them the lead against Spain the only one scored in open play by any of their players in six matches in Germany.

"Despite reaching the last four, France go out of the Euros with a bitter taste," was how Wednesday's edition of sports daily L'Equipe summed up their campaign.

Few teams boast a squad as strong as that of Deschamps, but while his side defended superbly for most of the Euros, their attackers failed to sparkle.

Kylian Mbappe, handicapped by fitness problems, was a shadow of his usual self, while Antoine Griezmann never came close to the brilliant form he showed at the 2022 World Cup and ended up being dropped.

"My ambition was to be champion of Europe and have a good Euros, and I have not done one thing or the other," said Mbappe, whose only goal in Germany was a penalty against Poland.

France have got used to winning under Deschamps, but winning is all that has ever mattered to the coach, who is less fussed about playing with panache than about getting results.

"If you are bored you can watch something else. You are not obliged to watch us," Deschamps replied to one question before the semi-final by a Swedish journalist suggesting France were a boring team to watch.

Those accusations have been levelled at Deschamps in the past, but not always fairly until this year.

- 'We will come back' -

His record speaks for itself, with Deschamps having taken over a team at something of a low ebb when he replaced Laurent Blanc in 2012.

The captain of the France sides that won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, he led the side to the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, his first tournament in charge.

They then reached the Euro 2016 final and won the 2018 World Cup before losing the 2022 World Cup final on penalties to Argentina.

France also won the UEFA Nations League in 2021 and their only truly below-par showing at a major tournament came at the last Euros, when they went out on penalties to Switzerland in the last 16.

It was following the last World Cup that Deschamps signed a contract extension until 2026, and that year's World Cup is now France's next big objective.

But is Deschamps, 55, still the man to lead them forward, after six major tournaments in charge and as he approaches the 12th anniversary of his first game at the helm?

It is worth citing the example of Joachim Loew, who became Germany coach in 2006.

In Loew's first five tournaments, Germany won the 2014 World Cup, got to the Euro 2008 final, and lost three semi-finals.

After that, Germany went out of the 2018 World Cup in the group stage, and a last-16 exit at Euro 2020 -- his seventh major tournament -- signalled the end.

"Ask my president. We have just lost a semi-final. I won't answer that today," Deschamps said in response to a question about his future after the Spain defeat.

In the meantime Zinedine Zidane, often cited in the past as a possible successor to Deschamps, remains unattached, and potentially available.

Euro 2024 marks the end of the road for veteran striker Olivier Giroud, France's all-time top scorer, but there is no suggestion that Griezmann, aged 33, plans to retire.

"We will come back. We have talent but you need a lot more than that," Griezmann said on Tuesday, acknowledging France had not performed well enough in Germany.

They always have new stars emerging, and Paris Saint-Germain winger Bradley Barcola, just 21, has been a revelation.

Most importantly, regardless of Deschamps' own situation, France will hope to get Mbappe back on form and fully fit for their next games, against Italy and Belgium in the Nations League in September.