KEIR RADNEDGE in LILLE: France progressed to the knockout stages of Euro 2016 but left the nation wondering whether Didier Deschamps had missed a trick in taking a leaf out of Claudio Ranieri’s ‘tinkerman’ book.
Yet again, in a 0-0 draw with Switzerland on another poor pitch, the French manager fiddled with personnel and tactics on the way to closing out what should have been a more comfortable Group A campaign than it proved.
Les Bleus progressed to the second round as group winners (seven points) with the Swiss (five points) in second place. Albania finished third on three points after beating Romania (one point) in Lyon and will have to await their eventual fate in the third-place lottery.
An energetic game saw France squander more chances without scoring than even hapless Ronaldo the previous night. Midfielder Paul Pogba, restored to the starting line-up, had an astonishing opening 20 minutes – first nearly scoring an own goal then coming close three times to putting France ahead at the other end.
Even he then subsided into a bizarre game with plenty of goalmouth incident, some fine saves by consistently excellent Swiss keeper Yann Sommer, a burst (Adidas) ball and four ripped (Swiss, Puma) shirts.
Deschamps brought Dmitri Payet into the game in the second half, presumably with that usual last-minute goal in mind. This time, however, even the usual minor footballing miracle proved beyond the West Ham winger. Not for want of trying. In the 76th minute he thrashed a shot against the underside of the crossbar but it bounced back out into play.
Deschamps was satisfied with the outcome though he acknowledged a continuing room for improvement.
He said: “We had four good chances and had we been a bit more clinical we could have scored. Switzerland were better on the ball at times but without threatening too much. But for a great goalkeeper and a few centimetres we could have scored goals.
“It was very important to finish first in the group and clearly there are still things that need to be improved upon. But then, I’ve seen almost every match and, apart from two or three games, all sides have had tricky games.”
Deschamps omitted Ngolo Kante to save him from a yellow card and suspension but, otherwise, perhaps a victim of his own impatience, might have allowed his stars and team to play their way into the tournament.
A disjointed performance and disappointing result – on the night at least – indicated that France face a lot of work on the training ground before they head for Lyon next Sunday and a meeting with one of the third-placed teams.
The draw has done its best to help France; now France have to help themselves.
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