Being hosts of any international tournament brings natural pressure of wanting to perform in front of your own nation, but even more so when you’re amongst the favourites for the competition.
This, a potential poisoned chalice, is the unique position that France find themselves in ahead of Euro 2016.
How did they qualify? Well, in short, they didn’t. As many will be well aware of, the hosts of international tournaments are automatically in that international tournament, meaning that they’ve played a tedious amount of friendly matches since the 2014 World Cup.
Since the start of the ‘international season’, back in September, Les Blues have a stellar record in friendlies, winning seven and losing just one. That was to England in November, a game that was overshadowed by the terrorist attacks on Paris just a few days before, whilst France were playing Germany – a game they won 2-0.
Other impressive wins have included a win on the road against Portugal, and the 4-0 hammering of Armenia at home. In the most recent international break, back in March, they beat the Netherlands 3-2 and Russia 4-2 in two high scoring affairs.
They play two more friendly matches before the first game of the tournament, both at home. Cameroon visit on Monday 30th May, before France play host to Scotland just five days later.
Manager: Didier Deschamps
Didier Deschamps will lead France into his second tournament as boss, having taken over after Euro 2012. He didn’t do too badly in the World Cup two years later, guiding France to the quarter-finals before they narrowly lost out to eventual winners Germany.
With a wide range of talented options at his disposal, there are a number of different tactical systems that Deschamps could employ at the Championship’s, however it is likely that he’ll opt for a 4-3-3 formation, with goalscoring wingers cutting inside to support the lone striker.
Strengths and weaknesses?
France’s main strength going into the finals seems to be the strength in depth throughout the squad, which is evident in the player’s that haven’t made the final cut. There’s no Karim Benzema, Mathieu Valbuena, Morgan Schneiderlin, Alexandre Lacazette or Hatem Ben-Arfa in a squad filled with talent.
They do have some genuinely world class players, with Hugo Lloris in goal one of the top shot-stopper’s in world football, whilst Antoine Griezmann has been a driving force behind Atletico Madrid’s Champions League success this season. And then, of course, there’s Paul Pogba.
One potential weakness for the French must be the stereotype that they’re always prone to disaster at major tournament’s, with disruption amongst the playing squad a reason for their failure in the 2010 World Cup. However, Deschamps is aware of this, and seems to have picked a squad fairly free of friction. With this in mind, it could all be about how they handle the pressure of hosting the tournament.
They do also come into the tournament having experienced some controversy in recent months, with Mamadou Sakho unavailable for selection as he faces a ban for a failed drugs test, whilst Karim Benzema is suspended by the national team as he faces a police charge regarding blackmail involving international teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who hasn't been picked either.
Who's the star, and who's the wildcard?
Whilst there is a huge abundance of talent in the France squad, some previously mentioned, you’d can’t do much better than looking past Paul Pogba as their key player. A powerhouse in midfield, Pogba’s ability to provide quality at both ends of the pitch is unrivalled by all but few in world football, and he’s a player that’s been tipped as a future Balon d’Or winner.
Should he be given the chance to impress, explosive winger Kingsley Coman could prove to be France’s wildcard this summer. A title winner in France, Italy and now Germany by just the age of 20, he’s had a fantastic season for Bayern Munich, breaking into Pep Guardiola’s starting 11 ahead of many experienced talents. Coman made his international debut last November, and has made three appearances up to his point, but he’ll be hoping to add to that statistic in the coming weeks.
And in Group A...
As they qualified automatically as hosts, France were first out of the pot in Group A when the draw was conducted. They were drawn against Albania (45th in the world), Romania (19th) and Switzerland (14th). For the record, France have the second lowest world ranking in their group, currently placed at 21st.
Despite this, they are overwhelming favourites to top the group in style, and you wouldn’t put it past them to win all of their three group matches. From then on, the last 16 and quarter final’s should be negotiable, before the big hitter’s inevitably wait at the semi-final stage. However, France are one of the big hitter’s, so will fancy their chances of taking home the whole thing. Germany and Spain are the next two favourites, hoping to stand in Les Blues’ way.
Friday, June 10th - Stade de France: France - Romania
Wednesday, June 15th - Stade Velodrome: France - Albania
Sunday, June 19th - Stade Pierre Mauroy: France - Switzerland