France - Romania Preview: Hosts determined to make good start in tournament opener

France welcome Romania to the Stade de France touted as the favourites for the competition, but the visitors should not be taken lightly.

France - Romania Preview: Hosts determined to make good start in tournament opener
(photo: vavel)

After weeks of anticipation Euro 2016 is finally set to kick off, with hosts France welcoming Romania to the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.

15 kilometres north of Paris, the national team stadium was one of the venues targeted in the suicide attacks that so tragically put the country on high alert last November.

With threats of further attacks throughout the tournament, French security services have warned the hundreds of thousands of fans attending the event to be vigilant whilst in and around the stadiums, fanzones and major cities.

Shocked by the events last November, in which a bomb was heard exploding near the stadium during a friendly against world champions Germany, the French team know there is added significance to this game.

Youthful and fruitful?

Ahead of the tournament, France manager Didier Deschamps, who lifted the World Cup on home soil in 1998, was given a fair number of selection headaches. Dogged by injuries to centre backs Raphael Varane and Jeremy Mathieu, as well as the saga of Mamadou Sakho, the central defensive partnership looks likely to be filled by Laurent Koscielny and Adil Rami.

In attack however, there are more fruitful options. Olivier Giroud is set to spearhead the attack, replacing Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema who is subject of an investigation after allegedly bribing Mathieu Valbuena in a recent sex tape scandal.

The decision to leave out Benzema was widely supported by French supporters. However the decision not to include Hatem Ben Arfa has led to suggestions that the team remains divided by Islamic representation.

Either side of Giroud in a three man attack, expect to see Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezman and West Ham star man Dimitri Payet, who has forced his way into the team after a stellar campaign at Upton Park.

In the central areas, France are equally as blessed and are able to call upon Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Yohan Cabaye and N'Golo Kante. With one of the most youthful teams in their recent history, the hosts are expected to succeed this year and have been widely touted to lift a major trophy on home turf once again, after Euro 1984 and the 98 World Cup.

France will be hugely reliant on Paul Pogba (photo: Getty Images)
France will be hugely reliant on Paul Pogba (photo: Getty Images)

Workmanlike Unit

Aiming for the knockout stages of a major tournament for the first time since EURO 2000, Romania should not be underestimated. Unbeaten in qualifying, winning and drawing five a piece on the way to finishing runners up to Northern Ireland, the Romanians conceded just two goals.

Integral to Anghel Iordanescu’s plans is ex-Tottenham defender Vlad Chiriches, the 26 year-old recently made captain. The man he replaced, Razvan Rat is likely to play a left-back. Capped 111 times by his country, Rat is considered a true icon of Romanian football. Though a shoulder injury has prevented him from playing club football since last November, his place in the team would never have been at threat.

Favouring a disciplined 4-2-3-1 formation, Ovidiu Hoban and Mihai Pintilii should provide the midfield anchor though they offer very little going forward. But going forward is where Iordenescu will be provided with the majority of his selection dilemmas.

The left wing spot looks to have been secured by Bogdan Stancu. A key player in qualifying, Stancu provides a threat from long-range though he can often go missing for spells in games. The right hand spot is very much up for grabs with speedy wingers Gabriel Torje and Adrian Popa competing against one another.

The number ten role looks set to be given to Nicolae Stanciu, the current playboy of Romanian football is technically gifted, has dazzling dribbling skills and is equally competent at dead ball opportunities. If he fails, then it will be over to veteran Lucian Sanmartean to produce the goods, in what will be the 35 year-old’s international bow.

Ahead of the pack will be either Denis Alibec or Florin Andone. Both have been in scintillating form this season but Alibec has been criticised for looking unfit and Andone’s fine breakthrough year at Spanish Segunda side Cordoba has not gone unnoticed, where he notched 21 goals on the way to becoming the division’s joint top goalscorer.

Key Stats:

France are unbeaten in their last ten encounters against Romania, though four of the last five have been draws.

Their opening game of Euro 96 saw Les Bleus run out 1-0 winners over Romania’s ‘Golden Generation’ whilst in the group opener at EURO 2008, they drew 0-0.

France have won all four games they have played in 2016; notching 12 goals en route.

Romania’s last warmup game saw them demolish Georgia 5-1, however they also suffered a 4-3 defeat against Ukraine despite leading for most of the game.

The opening game’s opponents were two of just four European nations to appear in the first ever World Cup in 1930.