Injury-plagued France to host Scotland in last friendly before Euro
After preparations overshadowed by off-field controversy and injuries to key players, Euro 2016 hosts France play their final pre-tournament friendly against Scotland in the north-eastern city of Metz on Saturday.football Updated: Jun 08, 2016 15:53 IST
After preparations overshadowed by off-field controversy and injuries to key players, Euro 2016 hosts France play their final pre-tournament friendly against Scotland in the north-eastern city of Metz on Saturday.
Les Bleus’ prospects of winning a major competition on home soil -- just as they did at Euro 84 and the 1998 World Cup -- cannot have been aided by the on-going noise of the Karim Benzema affair or by the flurry of withdrawals before the final deadline to name their 23-man squad passed on Tuesday.
Sidelined from the squad due to his implication in the Mathieu Valbuena sextape blackmail affair, Real Madrid star Benzema has caused a storm by claiming “a racist part of France” is to blame for his exclusion in an interview with Spanish media.
But France coach Didier Deschamps may have been more concerned about the loss of key midfielder Lassana Diarra to injury minutes before the final squad deadline.
“Obviously it is annoying but I have 23 players and I have confidence in them,” said Deschamps, who has replaced Diarra with Manchester United midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin.
Diarra’s withdrawal means he joins defenders Mathieu Debuchy, Mamadou Sakho, Raphael Varane and Jeremy Mathieu in missing the European Championship.
It is the defence that is the greatest on-field worry for a France side that once again appeared vulnerable at the back in beating Cameroon 3-2 in Nantes on Monday.
They have won eight of their last nine matches but Deschamps needs to find a settled defence before the start of the Euros against Romania next Friday.
“Everyone was already worried six months ago, a year ago. We haven’t much time. But it is not just the defence. We are capable of scoring goals and creating problems for any opponents,” insisted Deschamps from France’s training camp in Austria.
Les Bleus have opted to spend a few days out of the country as the pressure and expectation starts to build at home.
Antoine Griezmann joined up with the squad at their Alpine base and against Scotland he is set to make his first appearance for his country since turning out for Atletico Madrid in their Champions League final loss to Real Madrid last weekend.
Manchester United forward Anthony Martial has shaken off a thigh complaint and is available but Dimitri Payet could keep his place in the starting line-up following his stunning free-kick winner against Cameroon.
Elsewhere, Adil Rami should continue in defence and N’Golo Kante is likely to start in midfield in place of Diarra.
Scotland were the one nation from the British Isles to fail to qualify for the Euros, so this will be the only taste of the French summer for Gordon Strachan’s men.
Beaten 1-0 by Italy last weekend, this will also be their last run-out before starting their qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup against Malta in September.
“These are the teams you want to be testing yourselves against because, once the qualifiers come around, we are going to be playing against teams of this calibre, and we need to make sure we have got a chance of qualifying,” said defender Russell Martin.
“It will be a step up in terms of intensity and tempo because they are obviously the home nation.”
Scotland, who will come up against the likes of England and Slovakia in World Cup qualifying, are without Christophe Berra and Barry Bannan for the game.
However, the Hull City trio of Andrew Robertson, Robert Snodgrass and Shaun Maloney have travelled after helping their club win promotion to the English Premier League.