With strength in-depth, Deschamps can turn loss to victory
By John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) - When the final whistle went in Paris, the disappointment of France's Euro 2016 loss to Portugal could be felt among their fans but after almost 10 years in the wilderness, coach Didier Deschamps has built a side ready to vie for the next World Cup.
Having come into the tournament with few pundits expecting them to go beyond the semi-finals, let alone defeat Germany for the first time in a competitive game in 58 years, they managed to exceed expectations and lay solid foundations.
There is a youthful togetherness, hunger and swagger about this French team that with a few tweaks will make them stronger as they aim for the World Cup title in Russia in two years time.
The defeat to Portugal, while cruel in its manner, highlighted that France's young guns still need to mature after coming up against a more savvy opponent. Great teams are often built on such defeats.
"Our disappointment is immense and will take time to digest. We won together, we suffered together and we lost together," said Deschamps, emphasizing the family feel he has nurtured over the last two years.
Exciting winger Kingsley Coman, at 20 France's youngest player, summed up the disappointment by storming off straight into the tunnel as the whistle went, but after a word from the staff was back to thank the fans.
At 25, Antoine Griezmann proved with his six goals that he is just at the start of his journey as heir to the great French number 10s of Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini.
Perhaps the burden on his shoulders after a 70th match of the season was just too much on the day.
It was ironically France's main strength in the tournament, their attack, that let them down on the night. They lacked that cutting edge and freshness to get them over the line.
But with Karim Benzema, their best striker absent at the tournament, Lyon's Alexandre Lacazette waiting in the wings and Anthony Martial still developing, the prospects are bright up front.
The French midfield trio of Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba and Moussa Sissoko were on top for much of Sunday's match. N'Golo Kante, who did not play in the final, has shown that he can add steel to the French midfield.
Pogba still has to show that he can become the great player he aspires to be. His flashes of brilliance were too intermittent throughout the tournament.
But at 23 he has his best years ahead of him and could be the man that drives this team forward.
Prior to the tournament, France's Achilles heel was in defence. It has, on the whole, defied those critics. With no caps prior to Euro 2016, 22-year-old Samuel Umtiti has proved that he has a future at this level.
The French team were already lacking their top central defensive partnership in Raphael Varane and Mamadou Sakho but are spoiled for choice at centre-back with Kurt Zouma and Aymeric Laporte among those knocking on the door.
Arguably, Deschamps' biggest headache will be replacing his full backs.
While Patrice Evra has played a father figure role in the team, his performances have not justified his place. Layvin Kurzawa and Lucas Digne must now step up. On the right, Bacary Sagna will also step aside, although there is no natural replacement as yet.
"I'm proud of what this group of 23 players achieved. We didn't get the reward, but we have an exceptional group and that let's us think that we will have better days," Deschamps said.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)