Euro 2016 Spotlight:France

France has the most potentially exciting collection of footballers at Euro 2016.

Excitement isn't just about quality, though they have plenty of that; it's not just home advantage that has them installed as one of the favorites. Excitement is about looking at a squad, weighing its component parts and thinking: yes, any game involving that lot has a decent chance of being a spectacle. "Yes, I will watch their games."

So, on the good stuff side, France has Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman, two of Europe's most exciting youngsters coming off successful debut seasons with new clubs. It has Antoine Griezmann, the sharp point of Diego Simeone's brilliant Atlêtico Madrid and one of Europe's most coveted forwards. It's got a midfield likely to contain the brilliant Blaise Matuidi alongside either Leicester City's N'Golo Kante (who is basically two players at once, both of them excellent) or Morgan Schneiderlin, who used to be really good before Louis van Gaal got to him.

France has Dimitri Payet, who is — shall we call it? Let's call it? — the best direct free kick taker knocking around Europe at the moment. And direct free kicks, with a player like Payet standing over them, become wonderful puzzles, like those ultra-complicated levels they stick at the end of a computer game to keep the real sadists playing. A shot on goal? Pfft. Move it 20 yards wide and 10 back, stick a wall in the way and try to hit the far corner. Ping.

That good stuff is neatly balanced out by the defense, which — particularly in the absence of Raphael Varane and Mamadou Sakho — hits the neutral's sweet spot of being simultaneously capable and vulnerable. It would, after all, be inaccurate to call Laurent Koscielny, Eliaquim Mangala, Adil Rami, Patrice Evra and the rest bad defenders. Equally, it would be difficult to call them a fundamentally secure unit and keep a straight face.

But the thrilling cherry on this exhilarating cake is Paul Pogba. Still a mere child at 23, he goes into this tournament as the focal point of France's team and one of the most complete midfielders in the game. He is a sublime passer of the ball, both long and short; he possesses an incisive footballing brain, which has mastery over the theoretically-simple-but-actually-terribly-complicated business of knowing where the ball needs to go when he is in possession and where he needs to be when not; he can slap the thing into the net hard from quite some distance away, which is always nice; and his regularly changing haircuts probably annoy all the people that deserve to be annoyed. Don't talk to those people. They are boring people.

So that he is brilliant is fairly well accepted by now; this summer is perhaps his first chance to elevate himself into true superstar status. That sounds a bit stupid, given that he's been an integral part of four straight Serie A titles and a run to the Champions League final. But international tournaments stand apart from the ordinary cycle of footballing achievement. They are more intense, more memorable; they feel more important, even though they are inherently more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of form, fitness and fortune, and as such probably less accurate tests of whether a player is truly brilliant or merely good. So for the player that takes control of such a tournament, they can act as shortcuts to immortality. Pogba will probably get other shots at the pantheon (and the inevitable nine-figure move to Real Madrid or Barcelona), but this is his first.

So, in conclusion, watch France. Watch France because it's the host nation, and that's always the mannerly thing to do. Watch France because the squad contains more sexy attacking talent than their coach knows what to do with. Watch France because the defense could fall over at any moment, meaning that the aforementioned attacking talent might end up having to go for it. Watch France because Paul Pogba might ascend. And if none of that appeals, then watch France because no team in Europe is quite so capable of collapsing into an unhappy heap of recrimination and blame and name-calling. Whatever happens, you'll win.

Schedule & Results

Friday, Jun. 10
Wednesday, Jun. 15
Sunday, Jun. 19
Sunday, Jun. 26
Sunday, Jul. 3
Thursday, Jul. 7
Sunday, Jul. 10
Final after ET
Portugal
1
France
0