Don't rule out hosts France at Euro 2016, says Gary Lim
With their rising crop of stars, don't rule out France for glory on home soil
HOLLAND v FRANCE
(Tomorrow, 3.45am, Amsterdam Arena)
It remains to be seen if Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery will feature at Euro 2016.
But it might not matter even if Didier Deschamps is deprived of the services of two of his stalwarts when France host the European Championship in June.
With home advantage and a squad comprising the likes of Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba, Les Bleus must be considered as one of the favourites to lift the continental crown this summer.
But it is the emergence of players such as Dimitri Payet and Kingsley Coman this season that ensure they go into the tournament as one of the most exciting teams the country has seen since Zinedine Zidane and Co. took the world by storm in 1998.
“There are many rivals and there are no clear favourites. If I have to say only one name, I would say France because they are playing at home.”
- Vicente del Bosque, singling out France as the team he feels are most threatening to Spain
Club: Bayern Munich (on loan from Juventus)
League goals: 4
One of the fastest rising stars in world football, Coman doesn't look out of place in a star-studded Bayern Munich side.
He recently hit the headlines for his five-star performance against the club who own him, Juventus, in the second leg of the Champions League Round-of-16 clash.
Coming on as a 60th-minute substitute as Bayern trailed by two goals, he played a decisive role in turning the tie around by scoring a goal and setting up one to help his team win the match 4-2 in extra time.
Keen followers of the German Bundesliga would not have been surprised by his sizzling show.
Used mainly as a winger and at times as a forward, the young Frenchman possesses blazing speed and lovely skills, which have the world's top clubs queueing up for his signature.
Position: Attacking midfielder
Club: West Ham
League goals: 8
A late bloomer, Payet has always been no more than a fringe player for his country, for whom he played 15 times and scored once.
He must have thought that his chance to represent his country at Euro 2016 on home soil was gone, after going almost a year without playing for his country.
Reports suggested that Deschamps is worried that he could be a trouble-maker in the dressing room.
But his superb form for the Hammers this season eventually convinced the France coach to recall him for the upcoming friendlies against Holland and Russia.
He has been one of the main reasons for West Ham's shock push for a Champions League spot.
His class tells in his ability to somehow combine elegance and creativity amid the frenetic pace of the English Premier League.
Club: Leicester City
League goals: 1
Premiership leaders Leicester City's surprise title charge may be propelled by the sublime Riyad Mahrez and prolific Jamie Vardy, but Kante's solid work as their midfield enforcer has not gone unnoticed.
It is a role Deschamps will have no trouble appreciating, being a midfield destroyer himself during his playing days.
On Kante's first call-up to the national team, Deschamps, who coincidentally shares a similar height of 1.69 metres, said: "Kante wins balls, has great transition play, can be found everywhere, and always has solutions."
Likened to former France and Chelsea midfielder Claude Makelele, Kante makes up for his lack of physique with his ferocious appetite and astute reading of the game.
He may be just two friendly games away from claiming the French defensive midfield role as his own.
Club: Atletico Madrid
League goals: 17
Griezmann's football foundation was built on Spanish soil, where he learned his craft as a teenager with Real Sociedad.
But it was at Atletico Madrid that he truly blossomed into a big-game player, scoring 22 times in the La Liga in the 2014/15 season - his first with Atletico - to help them to third place.
Speedy, technically superb and capable of filling in anywhere across the forward line, Griezmann has continued his prolific form this term as Atletico continue to challenge for the domestic league crown.
His talent has won over many admirers, including France legend Jean-Pierre Papin. Said the former scoring machine: "Griezmann is the future of France, and also of Atletico."
Believed to be valued at £60 million ($116m), he is reportedly attracting interest from Europe's big clubs, Chelsea and Manchester United included.
Club: Manchester United
League goals: 7
Big-money moves have been known to crush young footballers psychologically, but Martial didn't seem at all affected by the pressure.
Reports estimated his move last year from Monaco to cost Man United some £36m, potentially rising to £58m.
Yet, he is looking every bit like the calculated gamble the Red Devils have taken.
He has been the rare bright spot amid his club's disappointing campaign.
Extremely composed on the ball and blessed with the pace and trickery to take on defenders in tight spaces, he scored on his debut for United, against arch-rivals Liverpool no less.
Deschamps is one big admirer, saying that he is definitely worth his price tag.
Martial's confidence may turn out to be a big weapon, as France attempt to fulfil huge expectations at Euro 2016.