Deschamps circles wagons before Iceland Euro 2016 clash


Paris (AFP) – France coach Didier Deschamps is keeping his players out of the spotlight amid mounting expectations ahead of the Euro 2016 hosts’ quarter-final against Iceland on Sunday.

France have enjoyed a favourable path to the last eight and are widely expected to brush aside surprise packages Iceland, and Deschamps is trying to ensure nothing derails their progress.

Wednesday’s training session was open to the public at the team’s Clairefontaine base to the south of Paris. However, there were no subsequent media activities planned and France are due to train behind closed doors on Thursday and Friday.

Instead, former France captain Deschamps is centering his focus on overcoming Les Bleus’ remaining hurdles as they seek to join Spain and Germany as three-time winners of the European Championship.

Deschamps appears set to hand Lyon defender Samuel Umtiti, who is reportedly on the verge of a move to Barcelona, his international debut in place of the suspended Adil Rami for Sunday’s contest at the Stade de France.

But perhaps of more pressing concern is the form of Juventus star Paul Pogba, who has flattered to deceive despite an impressive first-half showing in the 0-0 draw with Switzerland in the group stage.

Deschamps also must decide who replaces N’Golo Kante after the Leicester midfielder picked up his second booking of the tournament in the last-16 victory over the Republic of Ireland.

Kingsley Coman returned to training on Wednesday after hurting his ankle at the weekend and the Bayern Munich youngster is in contention to start should Deschamps stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation that triggered France’s second-half comeback against Ireland.

That allowed two-goal hero Antoine Griezmann to take up a more central role, the Atletico Madrid striker hovering in the shadow of target man Olivier Giroud to great effect.

Moussa Sissoko is also an option after seizing his opportunity against the Swiss, while Yohan Cabaye represents another alternative in defensive midfield if Deschamps elects to go with a 4-3-3 set-up.

Aside from Griezmann, Dimitri Payet is the other Frenchman to have caught the eye this summer after his stunning late winner against Romania was followed up by another last-gasp goal against Albania.

Payet wasn’t even in Deschamps’ plans as recently as eight months ago, but the West Ham playmaker’s electrifying form made it impossible for him to be overlooked.

“When he wasn’t in the French team he never gave up, and now he is proving he is one of the most important and talented players, not just in the French side, but in Europe,” said French legend Zinedine Zidane, in quotes published by the Daily Mirror last week.

“He had an incredible season with West Ham, and now at the Euros is showing that no occasion is too big for him. He would improve any side in Europe, that is how talented he is.”

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