November 10, 2014

PARIS (AP) With more meaningless games coming up for France's national team, at least the appearance of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a Sweden jersey will spark some interest.

France has not lost since being eliminated by Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals, looking sharp in home wins over Spain and Portugal and breezing to a 3-0 victory at Armenia. But because France is an automatic qualifier for the 2016 European Championship it will host, those results count for very little.

So until France kicks off the enlarged 24-team tournament on June 10, 2016, the problem coach Didier Deschamps faces is a long list of friendlies with absolutely no pressure to get results.

A relaxed position to be in, perhaps, but possibly a double-edged sword.

France is taking part in qualifying Group I, but doesn't get any points for wins or draws because of the national team's status as host.

So while Spain and England rebuild after poor World Cup campaigns, France has a fully settled side but one that won't be tested in a pressure environment. The players must find a way to motivate themselves despite knowing there isn't much at stake with regards to their place in the team.

First up is Albania at home in Rennes on Friday, then a swing south to take on Sweden and Ibrahimovic in Marseille.

Deschamps already has the nucleus of his side in place. He isn't looking for a spine to his team because he already found it at the World Cup, where Les Bleus looked impressive until facing a wiser and more experienced Germany.

Unless Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery comes out international retirement, Deschamps pretty much knows his best XI. There are one or two positions in defense up for grabs, but those are between players already in the World Cup squad.

There seems to be little room for newcomers, as there would be if France - like Spain and England - needed to increase competition for places.

A midfield comprising of Juventus star Paul Pogba alongside Paris Saint-Germain pair Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye is very well settled, while Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema is the leader in attack, flanked by Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann and Dynamo Moscow's Mathieu Valbuena.

In defense, Deschamps has a rock at center half in Real Madrid's Raphael Varane - fast developing into one of the most assured defenders in European football.

Even if he still needs to test his defense, the problem for Deschamps is that this is unlikely to happen much over the next calendar year.

With the exception of a match against Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal teammates next September, France's other opponents in Group I - Denmark, Albania, Serbia and Armenia - do not pose a major attacking threat.

Deschamps could well go into Euro 2016 with confidence high, yet with nagging doubts about how good his team will be when it counts.

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