Giroud makes France squad, Ben Arfa among reserves
PARIS: France coach Didier Deschamps picked seasoned striker Olivier Giroud on Thursday for his 23-man squad for the European soccer Championship, which France will host, naming in-form forward Hatem Ben Arfa only as a reserve.
Giroud, recovering from a lean spell at Arsenal with a strong finish to the Premier League season, is one of six strikers in the squad alongside Antoine Griezmann, Dimitri Payet, Antony Martial, Kingsley Coman and Andre-Pierre Gignac.
Karim Benzema will miss the June 10-July 10 tournament after a ban for his involvement in an alleged blackmail scandal was upheld by the French federation last month.
The Real Madrid forward was suspended indefinitely last December after being put under formal investigation by a judge for alleged blackmail over a sex video involving France team mate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left out of the squad announced on Thursday.
Ben Arfa, enjoying the most prolific season of his career with 17 goals for surprise Ligue 1 package Nice, is one of eight reserves who need a player to pull out injured to hope for a place in the final squad, which Deschamps has until May 31 to present to football's European body UEFA.
"Hatem has had a great season but he's not the only one in that position," Deschamps told a news conference after unveiling his squad during the evening news programme on French television channel TF1.
"Giroud, that's 25 goals in all competitions this season, for Griezmann it's even more and Martial is on the same level," he added. "My aim was not to pick the best 23 players but to go for a group capable of going very far in the tournament together."
Deschamps chose to leave out Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho, who is facing an investigation by UEFA after testing positive for an illegal substance following Liverpool's Europa League tie against Manchester United on March 17.
France, who kick off their campaign against Romania at Stade de France on June 10, have plenty of young talent up front in Griezmann, Martial and Coman.
Their midfield looks attractive, too, with fine players in Juventus's Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante, who shone in Leicester City's shock run to the Premier League title.
France have, however, looked vulnerable at the back in recent outings with Deschamps struggling to find successors to fullbacks Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra, respectively 33 and 34.
France, who won the 1998 World Cup on home soil and the European Championship two years later with Deschamps as their captain, will also play Albania and Switzerland in the group stage.
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Steve Mandanda (Olympique Marseille), Benoit Costil (Stade Rennes)
Defenders: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Eliaquim Mangala (Manchester City), Jeremy Mathieu (Barcelona), Patrice Evra (Juventus), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), Lucas Digne (AS Roma), Christophe Jallet (Olympique Lyon)
Midfielders: Paul Pogba (Juventus), Blaise Matuidi (Paris St Germain), Lassana Diarra (Olympique Marseille), N'Golo Kante (Leicester City), Yohan Cabaye (Crystal Palace), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle United)
Forwards: Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Dimitri Payet (West Ham United), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Andre-Pierre Gignac (UANL Tigres)
Reserves: Alphonse Areola (Villarreal), Hatem Ben Arfa (Nice), Kevin Gameiro (Sevilla), Alexandre Lacazette (Olympique Lyon), Adrien Rabiot (Paris St Germain), Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United), Djibril Sidibe (Lille), Samuel Umtiti (Olympique Lyon). (Editing by Catherine Evans and Clare Fallon)