After facing Poland in their tournament opener, the Netherlands will come up against France next Friday at Leipzig’s Red Bull Arena. A team that qualified quite coolly, winning all matches bar the final one against Greece, Les Bleus have a wealth of depth, and offer a real challenge early on for Ronald Koeman’s side.

Goalkeepers: Brice Samba (Lens), Mike Maignan (Milan), Alphonse Areola (West Ham)

Defenders: Benjamin Pavard (Inter), Ferland Mendy (Real Madrid), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich), Jules Kounde (Barcelona), William Saliba (Arsenal), Jonathan Clauss (Marseille), Theo Hernandez (Milan), Ibrahima Konate (Liverpool)

Midfielders: Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid), Aurelien Tchouameni (Real Madrid), Ousmane Dembele (Paris Saint-Germain), N’golo Kante (Al-Ittihad), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Warren Zaire-Emery (Paris Saint-Germain), Youssouf Fofana (AS Monaco)

Forwards: Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Olivier Giroud (Milan), Kylian Mbappe (Real Madrid), Randal Kolo Muani (Paris Saint-Germain), Marcus Thuram (Inter), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Bradley Barcola (Paris Saint-Germain)

The goalkeeping torch has been officially passed on from Hugo Lloris to Mike Maignan, and the defensive duties won’t be shared by Raphael Varane in this tournament. That said, the two retirees can have plenty of faith in their compatriots, as France have kept their conveyor belt of world class talent well-oiled. 

As the Guardian’s Luke Entwistle has aptly suggested, the midfield and attack will probably be a second coming of the 2022 World Cup side that reached the final in Qatar. Although N’Golo Kante’s inclusion is a bit of a shock, now plying his trade in Saudi Arabia, this is a France side that has a familiar feel and chemistry. With the likes of Kante and Giroud set to bow out of international football after this tournament, the squad is one that holds a pleasant mix of exciting youth and grounded experience. 

Despite talk of a post-World Cup departure, Didier Deschamps remains until 2026, and looks to implement much the same blueprint as before. He is predicted to continue with a 4-3-3 structure, and although hasn’t quite landed on a concrete centre-back pairing, Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano look the most likely to start. Jules Kounde and Theo Hernandez have pretty much cemented their spots either side of the two defenders, yet a resurgent Internazionale Benjamin Pavard could slot in seamlessly. 

A more experienced Antoine Griezmann now sits deeper in midfield with the luxury player Adrien Rabiot beside him. Aurelien Tchouameni will be the workhorse just behind them, unless Deschamps requires the intelligence of a seasoned Kante to get the job done. The front three looks set to feature Ousmane Dembele. He’s just hit form this season and consistently shown flashes of the two-footed teen that burst onto the scene all those years ago.

It’s a toss-up between Olivier Giroud and the more athletic Marcus Thuram in the centre, although Kylian Mbappe will certainly continue as the posterboy for this side. Now captain, and powered by a huge move to Real Madrid, the 25-year-old has now moved past the wistful air of ‘exciting youth prospect’. He is now, of course, ‘the man’. Can he keep shouldering the responsibility?

France kick off their campaign against Austria on Monday at Dusseldorf’s Merkur Spiel-Arena. The winner of Group D will face the second-best team from Group F, while the second-placed nation will face the second-best from Group E.

GBeNeFN | Max Bradfield

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