France carry weight of a nation as Euros kick-off
Mood of tournament would greatly benefit from a strong showing by home side
France v Romania
St Denis, 8pm
RTÉ 2, UTV
Eighteen years to the day after the World Cup they won on home soil kicked off in St Denis, France will be there themselves this evening to get the ball rolling on Euro 2016. There is excitement around the country’s capital but a sense of uncertainty too.
In 1998, the team’s success brought together a nation struggling to cope with its political, economic and racial divisions but the sad fact is that new found sense of unity didn’t last. France right now, it seems, is in at least as much need of a sporting diversion as France at the turn of the century.
At the very least, it needs to get through the coming month without the sort of incident that would deepen those divisions.
Carved a path
The locals are widely fancied to repeat their success of 1998 and, of course, 1984 when they won this competition as hosts – even if they lack the defence of 18 years ago and a player to rank with the great Michel Platini.
But their strengths are not hard to see, and in Didier Deschamps, their captain from ’98, they have a manager who knows what is going to be required.
Making the French team better than it was two years ago will be Deschamps’ first real challenge if they are to pose a serious threat at this tournament.
Spain arrive as real contenders again after a qualifying campaign in which they conceded just three goals, all of them in the opening two games, while Germany, as always, are amongst the favourites.
Having qualified by right, France are much more of an unknown quantity but the expectation is that even if their defence can be improved over the course of the tournament, the hosts are going to have to score a fair few goals to keep winning matches.
The defence is still a work in progress for Deschamps who, for instance, did not even include Seville centre back Adil Rami amongst his replacements when naming his original squad for the tournament but will now almost certainly start the 30-year-old this evening at the Stade de France after the loss of various other options.
Second placeAntoine GriezmannBlaise MatuidiPaul Pogba
N’Golo Kanté will be handed a huge role after an outstanding season for Leicester and Dimitri Payet looks all but certain to be rewarded for his recent club form too, with Anthony Martial losing out to the West Ham wide man for left-sided attacking spot.
Deschamps probably subscribes to the common theory that the first concern is not to lose your opening game but they should be able to aim higher than that.
France and its people may start to perk up if its team can win well and this tournament could certainly do with that.