By Jack Rodway (France) & Jed Woodcock (Romania)
France – Jack Rodway
How I will watch it
After four long years the European Championships return tonight, as host nation France take on Romania at the Stade de France. It has been a far from straightforward build up for Les Bleus. The threat of terrorism, the absence of key players and a bizarre blackmailing plot between teammates – which we won’t go into now – have somewhat over shadowed Didier Deschamps preparations. For now football can finally take centre stage in Paris this evening.
As a neutral I will be able to enjoy the game relaxed watching high quality football at home, which will really get me in the mood for the tournament. Before England bring me crashing back to reality, as they seem to do at every available opportunity.
Players to watch
This French squad has an outrageous amount of talent covering each position and choosing just one player to watch out for is difficult to say the least. However, if there is somebody who will be looking to stamp his mark on a major international tournament, then look no further than Atletico Madrid’s talisman Antoine Griezmann. With his wand of a left foot, the 25 year old has the ability to win a game on his own, whether scoring or creating a goal. He’s my tip to be the top scorer in the competition so go and stick a couple of quid on him. Easy money.
Also, if he’s fit enough, keep an eye out for Kingsley Coman. The nineteen year old became a favourite of Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich last season. With his electric pace and tricky wing play, the Romanians should be worried. Many are also tipping Paul Pogba, with his strength and undoubted skill to show his class in this competition… and have Manchester United fans crying into their beer sobbing ‘if only, if only.’ Told you it would be difficult to choose just one player.
Predicted Score: France 3 – 1 Romania
This may be France’s first competitive game in almost two years, but that should be no excuse for rustiness and it won’t be. Although everyone seems to think this will be a stroll in the park for the French, Romania will provide awkward opposition. But this France team on this huge occasion will just have too much for them. A 3-1 victory to France is what I shall predict, with a brace from Griezmann.
Romania – Jed Woodcock
How I will watch it
I, Jed Woodcock, formerly of England, take you, Romania, to be my sweepstake team, to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse, for victories, for losses, through injuries and in health, to love and to cherish, till knockout do us part, according to football’s holy law.
When I joint adopted a rescue gypsy cat from Eastern Europe three months ago, I didn’t realise it would lead me on a series of events that would culminate in me heavily rooting for the unfancied Romanians at Euro 2016. Oswald the cat still has nine lives – three times as many chances as Romania have to pick up three points in Group A – which could be all they need to get through the group as a lucky third place finisher.
In the last week, twice have I seen Romania pulled out of the hat following my name in the sweepstake – a result which I was displeased at to start with.
Whilst I am enjoying my basketball-loving brother’s wedding celebrations in the Quantocks Hills, Somerset this evening, I will spare more than a thought to my Romanian brothers and will be catching at least part of the game if I manage to sneak away unnoticed. The marriage vows set to be said at the wedding are not dissimilar to those I have felt towards these unlikely Romanians.
Players to watch
Statistically Romania have the least internationally experienced squad out of all the twenty-four teams at the tournament, but this isn’t a drawback. Two of the their most exciting prospects both have less than six caps each, and since being designated the Tricolorii I have added both to my Fantasy Football team.
Youngster Nicolae Stanciu, 23, is my pick for wildcard midfielder. He has had a superb season at Steaua Bucharest. Dazzling in the No10 role with excellent passing and mazy dribbling, Nicolae also has a good eye for goal having scored four goals in his five international appearances. Yet his most impressive performance to date was in the recent goalless draw against European powerhouse Spain.
Florin Andone, also 23, plays the role of most-likely goal-getter for Romania and can trouble high-profile opposition despite playing in Spain’s second tier with Córdoba. Even though he has only netted once at international level, he scored 21 league goals last season. An Atletico Madrid kind of player – Andone is quick, strong and will relentlessly fight for his goals.
Despite France having one of the strongest attacks in the competition, Romania’s resolute defending should be hard to break down. They had the best defensive record in qualifying, conceding just two goals – albeit in an easy group. On paper the centre back pairing of out-of-favour Napoli defender Chiriches and Dragos Grigore who now plys his trade in Qatar for Al-Sailiya, wouldn’t inspire huge confidence against the likes of Pogba, Griezmann and Payet. However this game isn’t being played on paper and it is the hard-working relentless defending of not only the back four, but the two protective defensive midfielders, that make this team hard to break down.
Predicted Score: France 1 – 1 Romania
Whilst many neutrals will be hoping the tournament gets off to a flyer with the French attack mesmerising fans all over the world, I think they will be left disappointed as my Romania ruin the party by sneaking a draw against their more illustrious opponents.
Even if Romania don’t get anything from the game, their chances in the competition will be heavily reliant on how they pick themselves up with upcoming ‘winnable’ games against Switzerland and Albania.
21.4 million Romanians, me and my cat can only hope that the Tricolorii’s reactive, compact style of football is a competitive match for France’s awe-inspiring attack. Whilst the individual brilliance of Gheorge Hagi led the Romanians to their finest hour in the 1994 World Cup, this time round the hard-working, hungry players dotted from around Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Qatar will be tasked with the job. In the likes of Andone, Stanciu and Chiriches, they have the hunger to make it happen – even in an era when Romanian football has no geniuses – yet.