As expected, host nation France were made to work in their opening Euro 2016 Group A clash against Romania on Friday night, but individual brilliance saw them through at the Stade de France, as the hosts recorded a 2-1 victory. West Ham United playmaker Dimitri Payet scored with a sublime strike from distance late in the game to give the tournament favourites a deserved win.
Les Bleus were dominant from start to finish, but certainly have a lot to ponder given their defensive frailties almost cost them the win, with Juventus’s Patrice Evra giving away a second-half penalty that Romania dispatched to make it 1-1. Nevertheless, Didier Deschamps men picked up all three points to end the day top of the table, and are now pole position to make it into the knockouts.
While opening games of major international competitions have the capacity to be boring at times, France’s meeting with Romania was anything but. Les Bleus were typically expansive in attack, using the fullness of the Stade de France pitch to stretch the Romania defence, while also threading some intricate passes through the middle to create clear-cut chances. Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud had two headers put on a plate for him by Payet, but he just couldn’t convert the opportunities. Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann nearly steered a cross into the back of the net, but saw his effort deflect just wide off the post.
While far from a perfect performance from France, Romania getting in behind their backline on a number of occasions but failing to make the most of their chances, France will take the positives into their next group game against.
A win in game week two will confirm their spot in the next round of the European Championships with a game to spare, but Deschamps might be tempted to make changes in personnel. France’s ageing defence could be exploited in the tournament if sides with pace come up against them, so it’s something for the national team manager to ponder in training during the coming days.
So while France delivered as promised in their opening game, their fellow Group A counterparts Albania and Switzerland have a chance to showcase their talents on the grand stage when the two sides locks horns at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis on Saturday afternoon.
Switzerland are favourites to come out on top to go level on points with France after the first round of games, but Albania are no pushovers. There’s every chance they could prove frustrating as avoiding defeat in all three group games could still see teams making it through as one of the best third-place sides. The addition of eight nations to the tournament means more teams will make the knockouts of the European Championships, and also means sides may be able to get away with a lower points tally.
The change in format may see teams adopting defensive tactics to merely avoid defeat and take a point, so it will be interesting to see Albania’s approach to their game. They won’t be the headline act, however, with England and Wales in action in Group B. The headlines this weekend are sure to be reserved for England’s meeting with Russia, and Wales’ first ever game in the European Championships against Slovakia.
England heads into the tournament trying to play down expectations, but are much-fancied to reach the latter stages of the Euros given their young and exuberant side, while a hard-working Wales can potentially thrive with the in-form Gareth Bale (seven goals scored in their Euro 2016 qualifiers) of Real Madrid in attack.
England supporters and pundits are sure to pick apart manager Roy Hodgson’s tactics against Russia on Saturday, while Wales fans and media outlets are just hoping for a win. Realistic expectation sees England being tipped to progress into the knockouts as winners of Group B, and Wales are also hopeful of making it through either in second-place or as one of the best third-place teams.
England boss Hodgson has big decisions to make on squad selection that is sure to lead to criticism given the calibre of player likely to be left out of the starting line-up regardless. Much of the talk has been about Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy and what role he will play in the side, but rumours from the England camp have suggested he could make way entirely for Liverpool’s Adam Lallana.
Given England have struggled in their opening games in the past, manager Roy Hodgson wants balance in the side so they aren’t leaving themselves too open in attack. Having a bench with the likes of Vardy, Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford among others gives the England boss some fantastic options if plan A is failing. However, England’s Euro 2016 opener against Russia could prove to be a one-sided affair in truth as the two sides aren’t comparable when it comes to energy levels and technical quality.
Russia are expected to counter England’s superior quality on the ball and constant movement in the final third with a robust approach, as well as limiting the space for England to play in. It may see them operating with in deep and compact formation to frustrate their opponents, but is likely to result in England boasting high levels of possession. The Three Lions could control the tie if Russia place too much emphasis on defending, but they will need to ensure they aren’t susceptible on the break too. Nevertheless, an England win is expected when the two sides meet at the Stade Vélodrome.
As for Wales’ meeting with Slovakia the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Chris Coleman’s side will likely be nervy going into their first European Championships, and shouldn’t underestimate their opponents. Slovakia are the favourites to come out on top according to the bookmakers, and recent form of the two sides would certainly tip the scale in their favour. Slovakia have won three and drawn three of their last six, beating world champions Germany most notably, while Wales have suffered three defeats from four. Day 2 of Euro 2016 should be an enthralling spectacle.