• No Valbuena, Ben Arfa for France as Euro countdown begins


    PARIS: With just over four weeks to go until the start of Euro 2016, the build-up to the European Championship continued on Thursday (Friday in Manila) as hosts France named their squad, minus Mathieu Valbuena and Hatem Ben Arfa.

    Valbuena’s season has been overshadowed by the sextape blackmail affair in which he has been a victim and which has seen star striker Karim Benzema of Real Madrid dropped by his country.

    The Lyon midfielder has struggled for form and has unsurprisingly been left out of the hosts’ squad for the finals.

    “Mathieu has had a very difficult season with injuries and his level of performance has been below what he is capable of doing,” said coach Didier Deschamps, who announced his squad live on television station TF1’s evening news bulletin.

    Valbuena, 31, reacted to his omission by admitting his “immense disappointment” in a post on his Facebook page.

    “This season has been marked by events which have, evidently, had consequences for my performances and my not being selected,” he said.

    Ben Arfa had been hopeful of making the squad after relaunching his career at Nice but instead has to settle for a place on the standby list of eight.

    Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho was also omitted after being suspended for 30 days by UEFA for failing a drugs test.

    Despite the absence of Benzema, who has scored 27 goals in 81 caps, France have great strength in depth in attack.

    Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud could lead the line while Antoine Griezmann is enjoying a superb season with Atletico Madrid.

    Anthony Martial and Dimitri Payet have also enjoyed fine campaigns since moving to the English Premier League and bookmakers in the UK have made France one of the favourites to win the trophy on home soil.

    Deschamps, who won the World Cup as a player when France hosted the tournament in 1998, must submit his definitive 23-man squad by the UEFA deadline of May 31.

    France open Euro 2016 against Romania on June 10 before also facing Albania and Switzerland in Group A.



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