Lots of positives for talent-laden France

Who needs Karim Benzema or Mathieu Valbuena when you have the abundance of attacking talent France demonstrated against Russia on Tuesday? 

The Euro 2016 hosts played their first game at the Stade de France since the Paris terrorist attacks on Nov. 13, and they won, 4-2, with goals by N'Golo Kante, Dimitri Payet, Andre-Pierre Gignac and teenager Kingsley Coman. Amazingly, both Kante and Payet were celebrating birthdays.

Kante, who was celebrating his 25th birthday, scored the Bleus' first goal in his French debut after winning the ball in midfield and finishing off the play with a low shot past keeper Igor Akinfeev.

Kante had carved out a modest career for himself with Caen in France when he moved to Leicester City, where he has been one of the influential figures in the Foxes' march to the top of the English Premier League.

As France prepares for Euro 2016, Coach Didier Deschamps' midfield looks set with Paul Pogba, Lassana Diarra and Blaise Matuidi. Kante, who was playing amateur soccer only five years ago, may have won a berth on France's Euro 2016 team, ahead of Manchester United's Morgan Schneiderlin, with his impressive game against Russia.

"I played with great players during those 10 days," he said of his first camp with the French national team. "I learned a lot, it is a beautiful experience that encourages me to do even better with my club, to work, to come back next time. I'm not part of this group of great players, I need to work much more to get to the level of my teammates."

The competition is even tougher up front, where France went with Antoine Griezmann, Benzema and Valbuena at the 2014 World Cup, but only Griezmann is assured of making France's Euro 2016 team following "L'Affaire Sextape" involving Benzema (currently suspended from the national team) and Valbuena.

Gignac, who is playing in Mexico for Tigres, is battling Arsenal's Olivier Giroud for the center forward position and should make the Euro 2016 squad if Benzema is not taken.

Valbuena's drop in form has opened the door for Manchester United's Anthony Martial, Payet and Coman to contend for the two spots out wide with Griezmann.

Against Russia, West Ham's Payet, 29 on Tuesday, scored on an exceptional free kick from distance and Coman, the Bayern Munich sensation, broke free to finish off the scoring.

The win over Russia followed a 3-2 victory over the Netherlands, the final two games before Deschamps brings the Bleus into camp to prepare for Euro 2016.

“There were many good things about these last two games,” he said. “Not everything was perfect, but there is a collective talent, even with different combinations. There is a team going forward which links well. A team that has speed. Obviously, there are a lot of positives."
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