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By Philip O'Connor
(Reuters) - France striker Kylian Mbappe's failure to score, not least in Monday's penalty shootout loss to Switzerland in the last 16, saw the world champions slide out of Euro 2020 without ever really getting going at the tournament.
Mbappe's miss from the spot against the Swiss condemned the French to an early exit but the warning signs had been there since they struggled to beat a poor Germany side 1-0 in their tournament opener.
The 22-year-old was instrumental in France's triumphant World Cup campaign in 2018, scoring four goals and wowing the world with his pace and trickery, but his Midas touch deserted him completely during the Euros.
Mbappe was not the only one who did not reach the kind of level he is capable of, and many in the French squad will have some soul-searching to do over some very flat performances.
N'Golo Kante seemed to be everywhere when he won the Champions League with Chelsea back in May, but all too often he was either tightly marked or anonymous alongside Paul Pogba in the France midfield.
Pogba's form for his country was more positive than for his club side Manchester United over the past season and his brilliant goal against Switzerland to make it 3-1 should have been the icing on the cake to take France to the quarter-finals.
But he too was prone to giving the ball away cheaply and was dispossessed for Switzerland's equaliser in the 3-3 draw, a goal that proved to be the lifeline the Swiss needed to advance 5-4 in the shootout after extra time.]
The French defence was sloppy throughout the tournament, conceding two penalties that Cristiano Ronaldo scored in a 2-2 draw with Portugal and caught napping when Switzerland refused to capitulate.
With his doubles against Portugal and Switzerland, Karim Benzema proved that he is still a goal-getter to be reckoned with, but at 33-years-old he hardly represents the future for French football.
It did not take long after Mbappe's penalty miss and France's exit for the criticism to begin.
"It was a poor French national team. There wasn't any togetherness, there wasn't any spirit. We didn't play as a team so we didn't deserve to go to the next round," former France midfielder Patrick Viera, who won the World Cup in 1998 and the Euros in 2020, said on French TV.
Though Mbappe still has youth on his side, France will have to take a long, hard look at how they build a side around him if they are to get back to the pinnacle of international football.
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)