EURO 2016: France To Top Group A With Ease As The Les Bleus Eye Title
Hosts France, having the strongest squad on paper going into the 2016 European Championship, will hope a comfort qualification from Group A to the knockout stage.
With an automatic berth into the tournament, ‘ side has not played a competitive match for two years, while registering friendly wins over the likes of Germany, Portugal, Russia and the Netherlands in the last 12 months.
With a wide array of attacking talents against a somewhat blunt attack from Romania and international tournament first-timers Albania, Les Bleus may get off to group progress in a buoyant mood.
Switzerland may be trickier for the 1984 and 2000 European champions, as the Swiss, being near neighbors, should be well supported to vanish France’s home advantage as hosts.
And they are the last group opponents for France and there seems a strong likelihood that match will be a scuffle about who end up with top place in the pool.
Vladimir Petkovic, however, will be satisfied with a second finish at Group A while the French on top, as he aims to be the first coach to take Switzerland, who finished second in their qualification group behind England, to the knockout stage of European championship.
France stay favorites, if not arguably the one for the ultimate trophy, with the most formidable attacking line since 2000, stubbed with an endless arsenal of players.
All eyes will be on Paul Pogba to perform on the big stage, the first major tournament for France as hosts since the 1998 World Cup.
The 23-year-old midfielder, a key figure in Juventus’ run of four successive Italian Serie A titles, instrumental in his club’s road to the 2015 Champions League final and voted Young Player of the Tournament at the 2014 World Cup for his country at international level.
Pogba has certainly lived up to the hype, having registered the most shots of 124 by any midfiedler in European football last season with 82 of those coming from outside the area, second to only Cristiano Ronaldo’s 84 across Europe’s top five leagues.
Even without Karim Benzema at the tournament, the hosts can look to Atletico Madrid’s 22-goal Antoine Griezmann, who has had a storming season in La Liga, Manchester United’s top Premier League scorer Anthony Martial and West Ham’s free-kick specialist Dimitri Payet.
The defence, however, is France’s weak spot, especially after Barcelona center back Jeremy Mathieu was ruled out with a calf injury following Real Madrid star Raphael Varane’s withdrawal due to a thigh injury.
In their last 11 friendlies, the 1998 World Cup winners, who defend by attacking, conceded a total of 15 goals and kept a clean sheet only on 4 occasions.
Romania, far from being that wonderful 1994 team plagued with starts, although, are the strongest defence of Group A. They finished second in the qualifiers, conceding only twice without losing one single match, and came out the only team to beat first-placed Northern Ireland.
Albania, the debutants, may be not well-known to most soccer fans, but they are not one of the teams that got it through the back door with these new 24 teams regulation. They managed to kick Denmark out of the qualifying spots and remained second only to C. Ronaldo’s Portugal.
France will kick off the tournament on June 10 against Romania, as top two finishers from six groups plus four best third-placed teams advance to the knockout stage.