As the bookies’ favourites and hosts of the tournament, France have a lot to live up to this summer at Euro 2016.
Whilst winning the 1998 World Cup had set a dangerously high precedent for success, France have flattered to deceive in European tournaments since winning Euro 2000 with Zidane, Vieira, Henry and co. something which recent generations have failed to live up to.
France have only reached the quarter-finals in two of the last three European Championships, failing to get out of the ‘Group of Death‘ (Romania, Netherlands and Italy) in 2008 after collecting just one point.
But this time around they not only have home advantage, but a really promising group of players who are more than capable of achieving glory. Didier Deschamps preference of a 4-3-3 formation makes the French a really potent attacking force and they have plenty of options in all areas of the pitch.
Defensively, Deschamps is likely to start Raphael Varane and Laurent Koscielny, a useful mixture of an experienced centre-half and one of the best young defenders in the world. With captain Hugo Lloris behind them this trio stand ‘Les Bleus‘ in good stead for the tournament – expect at least a couple of clean sheets in their group games.
Up front they have options too with Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Alexandre Lacazette and Anthony Martial just a handful vying for spots in the squad. Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema won’t be in the side though after the French FA announced he wouldn’t be selected following the sex tape blackmail scandal involving international teammate Mathieu Valbuena. While the skills of Benzema will undoubtedly be missed, his presence in the squad would definitely do more harm than good and FFA look to have made the right decision.
But midfield is where France’s real strength lies – it’s simply a treasure trove of world class players. Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye should make it into the squad, and that is before you even consider this season’s breakout stars like Dimitri Payet of West Ham and Leicester’s N’Golo Kante.
Pogba is the player who springs to mind as France’s talisman but Matuidi is the real heartbeat of the team. In fact, even his manager Deschamps openly admitted that the PSG man is the first name on the team sheet. A box-to-box midfielder, Matuidi has boundless energy and starts off a lot of attacks by winning back the ball.
One thing is certain: France certainly have the tools to win the Euros. Of course there is always the chance that the pressure may prove too much for the hosts, plus the fallout of the Benzema-Valbuena fiasco may still have an affect on the squad. However, if all goes to plan then France have an excellent chance.
I may lean towards Germany as my favourites but ‘Les Bleus‘ are a narrow second. The experienced World Champions now have a fourth European title in their sights – a first since Euro 96 – and if both win their group then they are set to meet France in the semi-finals.
As group winners the French would face a best third-placed team and then potentially Wales or England. So depending on how those sides do, it may not be until that huge semi-final that the hosts’ mettle is truly tested.