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Dan Sheridan/INPHO Marcel Desailly was in Dublin yesterday.
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'This France team are better than the 1998 World Cup winning side I was in'
Marcel Desailly believes the hosts are capable of doing something special at Euro 2016.

IT WOULDN’T BE a major tournament without some sort of controversy enveloping the French national team but Marcel Desailly believes the current squad can generate the right headlines on the pitch.

With a little over a week until France stages this summer’s European Championships, the build-up has revolved around the row over the exclusion of Karim Benzema from the hosts’ squad.

The Real Madrid striker was made unavailable for selection after being charged with complicity in an attempt to blackmail France teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sextape.

But questions about the motives for excluding Benzema and fellow striker Hatem Ben Arfa, whose father was a Tunisian international, have been raised by Eric Cantona, setting off a new racism debate.

Speaking in Dublin yesterday, Desailly maintains that Didier Deschamps’ decision to leave Benzema out was the correct one in the circumstances.

“The French Federation have put themselves in a position that they could have access to all of what was going on in the court case from Benzema and Valbuena so they have seen everything,” the former defender said.

“French Federation, coach have decided that, no, it’s better to leave him out. Yes, he is our top striker, we love him whatever, but it’s too risky to bring a guy like this who had too much controversial things around him.

“Didier must suffer because all the time you want to play your best players and it would have caused him a lot of pain [to make the decision].”

Benzema is France’s top scorer with 27 goals in 81 appearances and this race controversy is another distraction so close to the start of a tournament which starts on 10 June.

Marcel Desailly Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

It’s not unusual for the French national team to have to deal with off-field issues but Desailly says the mood in the country remains buoyant ahead of the campaign.

Deschamp’s side get proceedings underway in Paris against Romania, before games against Albania and Switzerland in Group A.

“It’s good because we know the players we have, we have talent,” Desailly continued.

“They are probably better than the 1998 World Cup winning team…take off Zidane from our generation. Remove Zidane from my squad and study the actual team, they are probably better than us.

“The pressure they get, if they take it correctly, they will probably be able to deliver something good out of it. They are better, tactically and physically.”

While the former Chelsea defender is confident Les Blues can make an impression on home soil, he also concedes expecting too much from a relatively inexperienced group of players is a dangerous game.

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“I wouldn’t put my money that quickly,” he says of France being installed as the bookmakers’ favourites. “You need a bit of luck. Who are you going to meet in the round of 16, you need a bit of luck? From there you’ll know a bit more.

“A surprise [to win], I say probably England.”

Carlsberg ambassador, Marcel Desailly, was in Dublin to kick start the celebrations for Irish fans ahead of Euro 2016. Carlsberg’s commitment to ‘do it better for the fans’ ensured over 1,500 fans will attend Ireland games in France and support the Green Army. For more information visit Facebook.com/Carlsberg

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