As hosts of Euro 2016, France’s position at the quadrennial tournament was already secured from the very start, meaning Les Bleus were fortunate to avoid a grueling qualifying campaign. That being said, Didier Deschamps’s side are under a different type of pressure – to clinch what would be their third Euro title on home soil.
It has been 16 years since France won their last Euro trophy, and 13 overall since they clinched a major international title. Since their victory in Holland, this summer’s hosts have yet to clear the quarter-finals, and have a crop of eager young stars keen to really make their mark on the international stage.
Since bowing out at the quarter-finals stage during the 2014 World Cup, Deschamps’s men have taken part in a series of friendlies to prepare for this upcoming tournament. There were defeats to Brazil, England, and Belgium, which were naturally disappointing, but not a major cause of alarm. A 1-0 defeat to Albania, however, did raise some eyebrows, but since November 17th, the hosts have managed to win each and every single one of their friendlies. Furthermore, victories over world champions Germany and top-ten side Portugal will have buoyed their confidence ahead of kicking off their group stage campaign this upcoming Friday.
Within their ranks are ambitious rising stars like Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, Juventus’s Paul Pogba, Leicester’s N’Golo Kante, and Manchester United’s Anthony Martial. Between the posts will be Tottenham shot-stopper Hugo Lloris, who is coming off a very impressive campaign as Spurs managed their highest-ever finish in recent times. In defense are Pogba’s club teammate Patrice Evra and Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny, plus Sevilla’s Adil Rami who had a solid season as his team clinched the Europa League. And add in the experienced Olivier Giroud, the free-kick magic of West Ham’s Dimitri Payet, and one has a squad fully capable of winning their first major trophy in over ten years.
France’s group, in all honesty, is a pretty straightforward one. Although they won’t have star striker Karim Benzema available due to a controversial legal case involving fellow teammate Mathieu Valbuena, Deschamps’s side should have no trouble qualifying from their quartet. Switzerland, of course, will be a tough opponent, and the team that will not make it easy to pick up all three points.
However, even though Albania did pull off that surprise win last year, the debutants are not expected to manage to stage yet another upset – especially not on France’s home turf. Their other foe, Romania, is another team that will not go away without a fight, but the class and talent on store for this summer’s hosts should be more than enough to dispatch them as well to march on to the net round and beyond.
Will they be able to challenge reigning Euro champions Spain, World Cup holders Germany, and dark horse outfits like Belgium? On paper at least, France do have the personnel to make a deep run in this tournament – and playing at home is always an added benefit.
Key, of course, will be the performances of players like Pogba, who had an excellent World Cup, and Griezmann, who had a fantastic domestic campaign with Atletico Madrid, as well as the rest of the supporting cast. Should everything click for them, then absolutely, France could be celebrating their third Euro title – 16 years after doing so in 2000, and interestingly, 32 years after their first win as hosts in 1984.