The wait is almost over. The first-ever 24-team European football championships will get underway this evening as hosts France face Romania. Here’s what to expect from this proverbial David v Goliath clash.
When France take to the pitch against Romania at 9PM local time in Paris’ Stade de France, supporters hope it will be the start of title-winning campaign.
Expectations haven’t been this high since 2000, when the equipe tricolore last claimed the European Championship. Coach Didier Deschamps’ men will have home crowds backing them, of course, and they won all of their tune-up friendlies this year.
Most observers – including the bookmakers – think that this iteration of the France national team has a good blend of youth and experience. Deschamps left potential troublemakers like Karim Benzema out of the squad in an effort to forge a team with chemistry.
“I picked these players,” Deschamps told reporters ahead of the game. “I know their qualities. There are players with different characteristics. We’ve been able to score a lot of goals and create a lot of problems for the opponents.”
Particular attention will be on Oliver Giroud, who is, in a sense, replacing Benzema as France’s go-to goal-getter. The center forward is coming off a hit-or-miss season and has even been booed by fans. But his recent form has been positive, and he gives a talented attacking midfield including stars Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann a big target to aim at.
“His role is like a pivot,” Deschamps said. “I’ve never doubted him and he knows I believe in him.”
First test against underdogs
France’s first opponents Romania believe that Les Bleus have a realistic shot at the title
“France have some terrifically talented players, all with top sides in the Champions League and it is a side worth hundreds of millions of Euros,” Romanian coach Anghel Iordanescu told reporters. “Given the ability of their players I think France are one of the favorites for this tournament.”
Romania, who booked their spot in Euro 2016 by finishing second in a relatively easy qualifying group, are rank outsiders. Still, the team was unbeaten in qualifying and conceded only two goals in ten games.
Deschamps has warned his charges not to take the Romanians lightly.
“They have a solid technical base,” Deschamps said. “They don’t just whack the ball into touch – they know how to use the ball.”
The tournament is taking place amidst strikes aimed at commuter trains to the stadium as well concerns about terrorism. The Stade de France was one of the targets of last year’s terror attacks in Paris, as suicide bombers unsuccessfully tried to enter the arena.
90,000 police and private guards will be charged with maintaining security at the ten Euro 2016 stadiums.