Football: No Valbuena, Ben Arfa for France as Euro countdown begins

PHOTO: Reuters

PARIS - With just over four weeks to go until the start of Euro 2016, the build-up to the European Championship continued on Thursday 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.

Belgium, another of the fancied nations to win the first 24-team Euros, also announced their provisional squad on Thursday, with coach Marc Wilmots deprived of the services of captain Vincent Kompany.

The Manchester City defender is ruled out with a groin problem.

"I'm terribly disappointed by Vincent Kompany's absence, he's our leader and he won't be there," said Wilmots.

Belgium are in the same group as Italy, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland, whose coach Martin O'Neill named a provisional list of 35 for the finals.

Record goal-scorer Robbie Keane, 35, made the list along with Everton right-back Seamus Coleman, despite the fact he has not played since last month due to a hamstring injury.

Ireland will face the Netherlands in a friendly in Dublin on May 27 as they step up preparations before their opening game against Sweden on June 13.

"Everything now is about preparing for Euro 2016 and that is why we wanted to play a team of the calibre of the Netherlands as we aim to make the most of our time ahead of the departure for France," O'Neill told a press conference in Dublin.

Austria's Swiss coach Marcel Koller unveiled a 24-man squad featuring Bayern Munich's David Alaba and Christian Fuchs of English champions Leicester City.

Austria enjoyed an impressive qualifying campaign as they qualified for the first time for the tournament - in 2008 they were automatically included as co-hosts - without losing a game and even thrashing Sweden 4-1 away.

"This team is unbelievably fun. The whole picture has changed incredibly in just under four years," said Koller, who will trim his list by one by the end of May.

Romania, Slovakia and Poland, who will be led by Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski, also announced their provisional squads on Thursday.

Other nations will announce their squads at the start of next week, with England manager Roy Hodgson naming his list on Monday and reigning champions Spain, World Cup holders Germany and Portugal due to follow on Tuesday.