Very few teams at Euro 2016 will have the same quality at their disposal that France do. At the tournament they host, they will enter as one of the real favourites, particularly when you consider the amount of attacking talent available to them. However, their hopes could lay with the form and fitness of centre-back Raphael Varane.
This is easily France’s best chance of winning a major international tournament since the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where they lost on penalties in the final to Italy after Zinedine Zidane’s infamous red card. Since then they have entered tournaments without key players, and with a toxic attitude in their squad which has made it almost impossible for them to challenge for major honours.
This time around, Les Bleus go into the tournament with what looks to be an incredibly strong squad on paper, barring injuries picked up between now and June. Spain, on the other hand, appear to be short of goals, while Germany have still not recovered from the various retirements following their 2014 World Cup triumph in Brazil.
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Manager Didier Deschamps has put together a team a team containing some of Europe’s finest attacking talent, including the likes of Kingsley Coman, Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet. However, they could be found wanting at the back, meaning that they rely heavily on Raphael Varane.
The Real Madrid centre-back is one the few world class players the French have at the back, particularly given that youngsters Kurt Zouma and Aymeric Laporte will both miss the tournament after picking up knee injuries. Varane himself has suffered from nasty injuries in the past, but if fit, he will be a key man for Deschamps.
With those injuries at the back, the likes of Mamadou Sakho, who has been unconvincing for Liverpool in the Premier League, and Laurent Koscielny, who himself has suffered his own injury problems, will partner the 22-year-old.
As a result, Varane - who has consistently impressed when playing for Real Madrid - will be the man at the heart of the French defence, and it doesn’t matter how well the attacking players perform, they will struggle to go all the way without a solid back four.
Varane’s cause will be helped by the inclusion in the squad of the likes of N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi, both of who have shown in club football that they are capable of effectively shielding the defence.
If Varane is fit, then France must be considered one of the favourites to win the Euros, because with him in the side, they must be considered as one of the most complete teams in Europe.