Formidable France await Scotland for Metz friendly

By Liam McLeodBBC Scotland
France's starting XI for the recent win over Cameroon
France's starting XI for the recent win over Cameroon
International friendly: France v Scotland
Date: Saturday, 4 June Venue: Stade Saint-Symphorien, Metz Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

Scottish football's marathon season will finally end on Saturday in the north-east of France.

But before it does, Gordon Strachan's national team will undertake a dangerous mission when they face Didier Deschamps' European Championship hosts.

Indeed, home advantage, coupled with an exciting, vibrant, attack-minded squad, have bookmakers believing that captain Hugo Lloris will be hoisting the Henri Delaunay Trophy aloft in Saint Denis on 10 July.

It is not often that Scotland will lock horns with one of international football's big hitters holding a better head-to-head record.

Of the 15 previous meetings, the Scots have emerged victorious on eight occasions to France's seven.

Two memorable wins in an 11-month period in Euro 2008 qualifying helped with that in what were, in modern day Scottish international football history at least, halcyon days.

Didier Deschamps
Deschamps oversees France in training

Les Bleus have not played a competitive game since losing to eventual champions Germany in their Maracana World Cup quarter-final almost two years ago with their calendar filled by friendlies, including two fixtures against each of those in qualifying Group I.

However, it would be churlish to suggest that this will have an impact given they won the last tournament they qualified automatically for as hosts, the World Cup in 1998.

The French have won the last two major competitions they have hosted, with the first of their two European Championship successes coming in 1984 when Michel Platini made the event his own.

The strength and depth of the favourites is highlighted, not just by those who will have the weight of an expectant host nation on their shoulders, but by those who will not be there to represent their country.

And it wouldn't be a major finals without a French sub-plot.

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema - who is the current active top scorer for France - is the most notable absentee due officially, to his alleged role in a blackmailing scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena of Marseille.

Hatem Ben Arfa
Hatem Ben Arfa is one of several notable absentees from the France squad

However, coach Deschamps, the 1998 World Cup winning captain, has become embroiled in accusations of racism,external-link with Benzema quoted in the Spanish press claiming the coach was bowing to "the pressure of a racist party in France," with regards his Algerian heritage.

It is something Deschamps strenuously denies, despite the likes of his former France colleague Eric Cantona fanning the flames.

Valbuena - who played alongside Steven Fletcher during the Scots' loan spell in France last season - isn't in the squad either.

And for varying reasons, there will also be no Hatem Ben Arfa, Alexandre Lacazette, Mathieu Debuchy, Jeremy Mathieu, Raphael Varane or Mamadou Sakho to name a handful.

Worryingly for the Scots, while Sunday's conquerors Italy can be accused of not scoring enough goals, this French team seldom disappoints in that department.

Without Benzema, Deschamps will choose from a pool of strikers that includes Arsenal's Olivier Giroud and Andre Pierre Gignac, who currently plies his trade in Mexico with Tigres where he has just completed a prolific season.

Andre Pierre Gignac
Gignac has scored seven times for France

Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann will be desperate to put his Champions League final disappointment behind him and take his frustration out on the Scots.

The 25-year-old has every chance of being the star of Euro 2016, as the iconic Platini was 32 years ago.

But then, so do several of his team-mates.

Manchester United's £36m forward Anthony Martial will be aiming to find the net for his country for the first time if he lines up against Strachan's men.

From exciting Bayern Munich winger Kingsley Coman - who impressed in his first start against Cameroon in a recent 3-2 friendly win - to Juventus superstar Paul Pogba and fellow midfield general Blaise Matuidi of PSG, the Scots will have their work cut out.

And that is before taking into account the dead-ball magic of Dimitri Payet, the West Ham man having scored the winner in the victory over the Africans in Nantes with an outstanding, trademark free-kick.

If there is a potential weakness in the French side, and it's all relative, it is at the back.

Varane's absence at centre-half is a blow and Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny may now be partnered by Adil Rami who has just won the Europa League with Sevilla.

Adil Rami
Rami's Sevilla beat Liverpool in the Europa League final

Veterans Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna are possible starters at full-back.

Scotland midfielder James McArthur said after the 1-0 defeat by Italy, that in Metz, they would have to "play the best we have played in a long, long time to create a shock".

It may be almost holiday time for Scotland's footballers, but they can ill afford to begin it 90 minutes early, with the French aiming for the best possible Euro 2016 send off.

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