Along side World Cup winners Germany, former winners Spain and Italy and outside bets England and Belgium, France enter Euro 2016 as one of the early favourites and rightly so. This will be the 15th time the European Championships have taken place and the third time France has hosted (1960 and 1984 the other two). In 1960, France reached the semi finals losing out to Yugoslavia in an enthralling match that ended 5-4 despite France being 4-2 up with 35 minutes left to play. In 1984 with Michel Platini leading the way France went one better by reaching the final beating Spain by 2-0 to lift the trophy for the first time. Since then, France have always been in contention but have failed to reach the latter stages apart from on one occasion in 2000 when a late David Trezeguet goal handed them victory over a battling Italy in the final to earn their second crown. Now back in France, the French know that this is their chance to add yet another trophy to their growing collection and we at BOTN blog believe that they will. Here are the three reasons why:
If you take a look at the winners of Europe’s top five leagues (England, Spain, France, Germany and Italy) and count the number of players that feature for those teams with their respective national sides, France comes in fourth with 6 players behind Germany/Spain (seven) and Italy (eight). But when you factor in the top three sides of each league, those stats dramatically change with France way out in front. Man to man, France has the most in-form players across Europe out of any of the squads attending this years tournament. At the back, Hugo Lloris has had a superb season with Tottenham and narrowly missed out on a winner’s medal losing out to surprise winners Leicester City. At left back, Patrice Evra continues to roll back the years with Juventus and has earned himself a new 2 year contract despite being 35. At centre back, the Premier League pairing of Arsenal’s Laurent Koscieniny and Eliaquim Mangala may not be everyone’s ideal pairing and to be fair aren’t France’s either but with injuries to Raphael Varane and Kurt Zouma, the duo looks likely to be first choice. The good news is that both are in good form, ending the season well and should be ready for the Euros. Supporting the defence is a midfield packed with talent. At the heart of it is Juventus Paul Pogba who has established himself as one of the first names on Deschamps team sheet. Alongside Pogba is likely to be N’Golo Konte, Leicester City’s breakthrough star whose rise to promenance has been nothing short of amazing. Over a year ago, Konte was playing for lowly Caen and was further from the national team thoughts than most but a move to Leicester City last summer followed by an outstanding debut season which saw Konte play a pivitol role in Leicester’s surprise run to the title has catipulated him into the French national team and a role at Euro 2016. His form during the season, alongside three stand out performances for Les Blues in recent friendlies has push him ahead of Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi for a starting spot. On the wings, France have talent in abundance with West Ham’s Dimitri Payet also benefiting from a move to the Premier League. His form for the Hammers this season as well as his natural talent at dead ball situations make him a contender for a starting place. Ahead of him however is Atletico’s Antonie Griezmann who is in the form of his life, helping Atletico push Barcelona all the way in the La Liga title race. He played a crucial role in Atletico reaching the Champions League final and will be looked to by Deschamps to provide the inspiration that powers France to glory this summer.
Upfront Deschamps has options despite overlooking the obvious pair of Karim Benzema and Kevin Gamiero. The former finds himself excluded due to off field shenanigans with the Real Madrid striker under investigation for allegedly attempting to blackmail fellow international Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape. Benzema would likely have been a starter given his form for Madrid but Deschamps has taken the bold move to remove him from the equation for the betterment of the entire squad. Sevilla’s Gamiero on the other hand just can’t seem to quite force his way back into the national team despite being in blistering form. The former PSG striker who scored in the 3-1 victory over Liverpool in the UEFA Cup final hasn’t featured for Les Blues since 2011 making him the forgotten man. Ahead of him however are three strong options, all of whom are playing well for their respective clubs. Like him or loathe him, Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud is a proven goalscorer with 14 goals for his country so far in just under 50 appearances. with Benzema now excluded, he is in contention for a starting spot but faces stiff competition from Andre-Pierre Gignac. Many feared that Gignac’s international career was over following his strange decision to leave Marseille for Mexican side Tigres but the move to North American has worked out well with the powerful striker rekindling his form and reestablishing his belief in his own abilities. Unlike Italian head coach Antonio Conte who has refused to call up the in-form Toronto forward Seb Giovinco due to his stance that the MLS is too weak a league, Deschamps has had no such hesitations and has given Gignac more game time than first expected. Finally the emergence of Anthony Martial at Manchester United has given Deschamps a new but nice headache with the electric teenager forcing his way into his plans. Whilst United stuttered this year under Louis Van Gaal, Martial has blossomed into one of their star players despite constant unfair pressure that came with his record-breaking monster transfer from Monaco. This trio, along with the exciting talents of Antonie Griezmann, Bayern’s Kingsley Coman and Dimitri Payet France have goals in them.
Heading into this tournament, the French are in an unfamiliar position – they actually all like each other. Historically the French national team has been splitting at the seams entering into major tournaments with in squad squabbles often derailing their challenge before it can begin. But heading into Euro 2016, the French are playing with a new-found sense of camaraderie which should bode well for the tournament. At the heart of this is manager Didier Deschamps who has built a squad that complements each other and more importantly has removed any potential bad apples that could ruin the pot. There is no place for the feuding Benzema and Valbuena for the reasons mentioned above nor is there a spot for Hatem Ben Arfa despite a stellar season with Nice. The former Newcastle winger has been on fire since returning to France scoring 17 goals this season but his colourful history as a disturptor has obviously been taken into consideration by Deschamps who has decided not to risk it. With a more balanced squad than ever before and a renewed focus, France look better prepared for this tournament than any other.
Never underestimate how important home field advantage can be. Playing the tournament in France in front of their own fans will benefit the national team much as it did at the World Cup in 1998. That year, France’s golden generation finally lived up to its potential and lifted the coveted trophy much to the delight of the thousands packed into the Parc des Princes. In that tournament, France benefitted from having an easier path to the final with their quarter-final clash with Italy proving to be their first real test. This year, France’s route to the final is arguably similarly easy having been placed in a very winnable group with Romania, Albania and Switzerland. Progression as the group winners should set up a clash with the Ukraine followed by a tie against either Austria/Iceland or Slovakia/Wales in the quarters. That leaves only a clash with Germany or Italy in the Semi’s and a potential final against Spain or England all being well. By the semi’s, France should have momentum behind them and with the home crowd in support, they should go on to lift the trophy to similar euphoric scenes as were seen in 1998.