Hugo Lloris on ‘unstoppable’ Kylian Mbappé, ‘unfortunate’ Harry Kane and LAFC

LOS ANGELES — Fifteen months ago, Hugo Lloris was involved in one of the most titanic struggles international soccer has ever seen.

He thinks another one could be coming this summer.

Lloris, France’s captain and goalkeeper for much of its run of global muscle-flexing over the past decade, will have a different experience when the European Championships begin on June 14. Having called time on his international career, he moved to the United States in time for the just-commenced Major League Soccer campaign, joining Western Conference powerhouse LAFC.

With the Euros fast-approaching, he is not shy to predict and epic tussle between his compatriots on Les Bleus, spearheaded by the brilliance of Kylian Mbappé, and an England squad led by his former club teammate and superstar striker Harry Kane.

Both France and England saw their World Cup campaigns end with penalty heartbreak. France lost to Argentina on spot-kicks after perhaps the greatest final of all time, an enthralling 3-3 battle that included a spectacular hat-trick from Mbappé. England went out to France in the quarters, after Kane scored one penalty against Lloris but missed a second that could have leveled the scores late.

“There is still so much hunger in Kylian and the team to (dominate),” Lloris told me, when we met recently at LAFC’s training complex. “He has an extra gear, yes, but with some players their brilliance is difficult to explain. Everything he does, he goes quicker than everyone else. On the pitch, he has got what all the best players, generation after generation, have got. That is ‘intelligence of game.’ He can see everything before everyone else.

“He has got his own way to play football, sometimes you see him walking around and then suddenly he goes so fast, like a sprinter. So there is a high and a low, but when there is a high, he is unstoppable.”

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France and England are joint favorites to win the title with most oddsmakers. Gareth Southgate’s England are knocking on the door, having reached the World Cup semifinal in 2018, lost on penalties Italy in the 2020 (played in 2021) Euros final, then performed strongly in Qatar.

“England, for me, have an amazing squad,” Lloris added. “They are ready to win. Jude Bellingham is (wow) — then you have Harry Kane. For me they are ready. I think if they don’t win with this generation it will be … (draws breath) … but we know that in football the most difficult thing is to win a tournament, it is so hard.

“With Harry, the problem in football is that we love to praise and love to criticize, but we forget the principle. The principle in football for a player is to reach the top level and to stay at the top level for 15 years, not for two or three. For me, Harry is the best. It is unbelievable what he has done these last few years, he is very unfortunate not to get trophies. Everybody respects Harry and considers him the best striker in the world. For sure, one day, he will be rewarded.”

The Euros are a gauntlet, packed with quality teams and with no easy games, even in the group stage. France will square off against the Netherlands, Austria, and a still to be determined playoff winner, in Group D. England is in Group C, along with Slovenia, Denmark and Serbia. If both win their respective groups, it could put them on a collision course for a potential semifinal, in Dortmund, on July 10.

[Related: Euro 2024 Groups: Group-by-group breakdown]

Of the other contenders, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal had a perfect run through qualifying, Italy might be the most under-the-radar defending champion in memory, Spain has some issues but is proven on the biggest stages and Germany, at home, will hope to overcome patchy recent form in friendly games.

Yet France remains the gold standard. Mbappé is supported by a level of talent so extraordinary that it feels unfair to pick out just a few of his colleagues for special mention. Antoine Griezmann mingles flair with consistency, Aurelien Tchouameni is technically outstanding, and AC Milan’s Mike Maignan is a fine replacement for Lloris between the posts. Mbappé has assumed captaincy duties.

Past success has created a level of expectation that no other country has to deal with. During Didier Deschamps’ reign in charge, the head coach has won a World Cup, reached a final and also achieved a runner-up position at the 2016 Euros.

“In France, we don’t always get enough credit,” Lloris said. “But we can’t underappreciate what we have done. We set this standard. Competition after competition, we grew as a team, and we became one of the best — and now stayed there for many years. It is so hard to stay at this level. To do it for one or two years, a lot of nations can do it. To do it for so many is tough.

“In France, before you start the competition, there is always one side that criticize and one side that supports the team. Then, when you go far and reach the quarterfinal, semifinal, you have all the country behind you. The real fans support us, they love us and know we did the job in the past. What the French people want is to see players with the right mentality loving the jersey. Why we had success is because we put the French national team above any player.”

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For now, Lloris is adapting to life in California, enjoying it all — except maybe the L.A. traffic. It is a change of pace, certainly. At Tottenham in the English Premier League there were hundreds of full-time staff, 20 training fields at a state-of-the-art complex, and a 62,000 capacity stadium.

Despite LAFC being the most valuable MLS franchise, per Forbes, the operation is still tight enough that Lloris has gotten to know all the staff at the training base by name, and enjoys the “family” atmosphere of the club.

He is optimistic about the future of American soccer and, while part of the reason for moving here was lifestyle, his competitive fire is still strong.

I believe MLS is a league that is improving year after year,” he said. “I really think that in the next few years it will become an important place for football. America is America. In terms of sport, you have the best athletes ever and I believe soccer is coming.

“I needed to find the right place to enjoy the life experience with my family, but I always wanted a place that wants to win. After such a long career, that means everything to me.”

As soccer competitions go, the magic of the Euros comes from their intensity, a depth of passion and ferocity on the same level as the World Cup. Lloris will be watching from afar this time, but has little doubt that an intense duel awaits.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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