Commentary

Euro 2016: Tensions boil over during another unconvincing French win

Host France became the first team to advance to the knockout stage of Euro 2016 when it beat Albania, 2-0, on Wednesday, but the performance did little to convince French supporters that the Bleus will win the tournament.

For all the talent Didier Deschamps has at his disposal, the whole has been less than the sum of the parts. Deschamps has not helped matters by starting with two different formations and sets of attacking personnel. In a major surprise, he benched his two biggest stars, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, and started Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman in their places as he switched from a 4-3-3 formation to 4-2-3-1 with Martial and Coman on the wings.

Deschamps said the move was dictated by Albania's ultra-defensive tactics and he hoped Martial and Coman would break down the Albanian defense. Unfortunately, Martial was useless, and Coman only slightly more dangerous.

France has generally switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 at the end of games as they open up, but the most defensive 4-3-3 actually worked better in Marseille. With an extra central midfielder -- Pogba, who replaced Martial after the break -- Blaise Matuidi had more cover from the excellent N'Golo Kante to be able to move forward and link up with the attack.

Deschamps also said the Euro 2016  was a long tournament and he needed to rotate players to keep them fresh. If that meant he had to bruise the egos of some of his stars, so be it.

He admitted after the game that Griezmann, who scored the winning goal in the 89th minute after entering the game for Coman, was unhappy, but the Atletico Madrid forward acknowledged that he had had a poor opening game against Romania and didn't deserve to start against Albania.

"There are 23 of us," he said. "The coach had to manage the squad. The coach told me before the pre-match talk that I was a substitute. He asked me to be ready... and the goal is definitely revenge for the match that I played [against Romania]."

As for Pogba, he did not talk to the media after the game, but he let them know where he thought they could go, giving a "bras d'honneur" in the direction of the press box after Dimitri Payet scored the second goal, on an assist from Pogba.



If the French federation -- which had to suspend Samir Nasri for three game after Euro 2012 for, among other things, making a similar gesture to the press -- won't likely do anything, it's because French broadcaster BeIN Sport did not show the image so as to "not create a controversy," according to its editorial director, Florent Houzot. It was only on Thursday that the Belgian network RTBF published the incident on its Web site.
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