The 2016 European Championships begin on Friday evening, with the host nation France welcoming Romania to the Stade de France in Paris. Didier Deschamps’ side are big favourites to go all the way in the tournament given the outstanding strength in depth in the squad, boasting the likes of Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba and Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann, to name but two.
Surprisingly, the world champions Germany aren’t being fancied to win the Euros just two years after their 2014 World Cup triumph, with the Eagles still suffering from inconsistency, while still recovering from the loss of experienced defenders in the squad. As for Spain, the holders of the European Champions are regarded as even bigger outsiders, as their performances have been less than convincing in recent months.
The likes of Belgium and England are being tipped to upset the applecart, but this summer’s tournament could be a close affair given how each side has an obvious flaw. Nevertheless, getting a win in the opening game will put France in pole position to progress to the next round as table-toppers with two more games still to play.
Defeat or a draw is far from a catastrophe, but their opponents Romania aren’t expected to showcase much of an attacking threat, so their meeting at the Stade de France should be a one-sided affair that the host nation eventually comes out on top in. The players will have to forget the expectation on their shoulders, and they’ll be mindful to avoid the capitulation suffered by a previous host nation in the last big international tournament.
Brazil’s thrashing in the 2014 World Cup will no doubt be used to remind the players exactly how damaging complacency can be, but for now the job is simply to win. France have had their problems in past tournaments, but they took the plaudits following their quarter-final exit in the 2014 World Cup, with suggestions of a revival after years of inconsistency.
France will showcase their fluid style of attacking football on the grand stage after having played friendlies since the 2014 World Cup due to not needing to qualify, so many still won’t know what to expect of the side. With the supporters roaring them on, France should start fast against Romania, and are expected to get off the mark in their opener to end the evening on top of Group A.
Les Bleus are coming off the back of four consecutive wins ahead of their clash with Romania, having beaten the likes of Netherlands, Russia, Cameroon and Scotland, but they aren’t without their flaws. An injury crisis at the back sees France’s defence threadbare with a number of players out of the tournament. However, their midfield and attack will more than make up for it.
Romania aren’t going to be given a second in possession at the Stade de France with the likes of N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba occupying the midfield, while Antoine Griezmann, Dimitri Payet and Olivier Giroud will be in attack. France will play with energy, and should pull teams apart with the movement of the forwards.
The visitors are defensively resilient so they might keep France quiet for lengthy periods, but the lion’s share of possession will only be going one way as a result. Deschamps will be telling his squad to start strong, but also not force the issue too much as they have 90 minutes to get the required goal which could be the winner.
France and Romania have Switzerland and Albania in Group A, and France are expected to rule the roost. Switzerland are expected to come in second, but the third place is a position to covet following the relaxing of qualification rules. Four of the best third-place teams will progress into the next round, meaning even more competition in a knockout format.
As a result, every point is even more important, and sides that suffer one or two defeats still have a slim hope of making it into the knockouts. The opening game will give some indication to how France will be approaching the European Championships, but nerves often play a part with so much pressure on players’ shoulders.
French attacker Antoine Griezmann is being tipped to enjoy a successful tournament. The Atletico Madrid man has been outstanding for his club, scoring 22 goals in La Liga, while reaching the Champions League final. He boasts excessive pace going forward, and will be key for France hitting sides on the break. The likes of Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet don’t have the same athleticism as Griezmann, so a lot will be asked of the Atleti man.
Its France’s midfield, however, that is incomparable. The individual brilliance of Paul Pogba, who scores and creates chances in abundance, makes him a danger man in the middle of the park, so sides will have to look to nullify his threat as much as possible. Alongside him will be two incredibly industrious midfielders in N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi, both who have been tasked with doing the dirty work around Pogba to allow him the space in attack.
France’s defence is their achilles heel going into the tournament, so they will be thankful to have goalkeeper Hugo Lloris between the sticks. The Tottenham shot-stopper is among the best in the world in his position, and he may prove to be a saviour as the European Championships go on. France lost the likes of Jeremy Mathieu from Barcelona, Raphael Varane from Real Madrid and Mamadou Sakho from Liverpool going into the Euros which meant an unfancied defensive pairing of Laurent Koscielny from Arsenal and Adil Rami of Sevilla is the best France have to offer.
With the ageing Patrice Eva of Juventus and Bacary Sagna of Manchester City at left-back and right-back respectively, France might suffer from a lack of pace in the defence. And given how open they play when in possession, they might be exploited on the counter attack. It’s something that has reared its head during their international friendlies against savvy opponents, but France will be hoping the industrious midfield can take the pressure off their makeshift defence, so they can start with a win.