France's stars fail to shine
Les Bleus' biggest stars fail to show up on biggest occasion
- After extra time
Such was France's confidence at seeing their Euro 2016 assault through that a celebratory open-top bus had sped down the motorway in plain sight.
That declaration of "Champions 2016" could be seen for kilometres as it headed to Paris - but the glue on that wrapping was being hastily scraped off just minutes before the final whistle blew yesterday morning (Singapore time).
They had coasted to the Stade de France on the crest of a wave in a host nation awash with both colour and confidence.
In a final that demanded - and expected - star quality, however, it was the underdogs who seized the mantle from their absentee peers.
Didier Deschamps' players had captured their country's imagination with a surge through the Finals reminiscent of the France coach's own excursions as a player in the 1998 World Cup campaign.
But that is where the parallels abruptly ended.
CRESTFALLEN: An inconsolable Blaise Matuidi and a dejected Andre-Pierre Gignac (above) after France failed to add another European title to their name. PHOTO: REUTERS
On an occasion where history beckoned for Les Bleus' current generation, they not only fell short but they also severely underwhelmed.
Antoine Griezmann took home the Golden Boot, as the tournament's top-scorer, but his Midas touch was conspicuous by its absence.
With six goals on the road to Saint-Denis, the Atletico Madrid forward had come to represent a symbol of hope and belief for a fractured nation.
Yet, as in the Champions League final, he failed to step up to the plate.
Even with the premature departure of Cristiano Ronaldo - his opposite number for both club and country - the 25-year-old failed to seize the initiative against a Portugal side who were largely there for the taking.
It merely confirmed what many had feared about both Griezmann and France.
A semi-final win over Germany aside, they had proved to be little more than flat-track bullies at the Finals; capable of sweeping aside lesser opponents but not more challenging prospects. Griezmann was not alone in that respect.
Olivier Giroud, another of Deschamps' leading lights, reaffirmed his villain status among the country's support with a blundering block of a goal-bound shot from his strike partner that culminated in his eventual substitution.
That calamity-laden performance may have seen Arsene Wenger forgiven for having second thoughts about reviving Arsenal's failed pursuit of Jamie Vardy.
Others also faltered, notably in the form of Dimitri Payet.
His match-ending challenge on Ronaldo will live longer in the memory than any other contribution from the West Ham playmaker in the final.
Uefa's festooned status as the tournament's best performer seemed almost unbecoming of his ineffectual half-chances and largely subdued demeanour.
Paul Pogba, too, struggled albeit largely due to the failings of his manager.
Deschamps' desperation to adopt a more defence-minded approach saw Europe's currently most-coveted player reduced to a water-carrier role at a time when France were in a greater need of his creative attacking qualities.
Changes often came too late from the France coach and often with the wrong personnel sacrificed.
Withdrawing Moussa Sissoko, a player destined to start the new season in the English Championship with Newcastle, in extra time was insulting to both the only player from the hosts to emerge with any real credit and his replacement, Anthony Martial.
Manchester United's boy wonder has regularly tormented and terrorised defences as stubborn as Fernando Santos' side but cannot make up lost ground with only 10 minutes of playing time at his disposal.
Much like his players, Deschamps is a pale imitation of his illustrious predecessors.
Acknowledging that France blew their best opportunity of success in 16 years was of hollow consolation to those that have endured it.
This is a big knock on the head. I’m sad for my players. It’s tough, real tough. It’s hard also for the fans who wanted that trophy so much.
— France coach Didier Deschamps
We used a lot of energy in the game against Germany and we were probably not as fresh as we needed to be. I can’t reproach my players, they gave it all they had, but we lacked that bit of luck. We had our chances, it came down to small things but there you go.
— Deschamps on what went wrong
Maybe Portugal did not win many matches, but they did not make it to the final by accident. You can’t take anything away from them, they won. Congratulations to them.
— Deschamps feels Portugal are deserving champions