Euro 2016 Group A preview: France a force to be reckoned with
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | June 5, 2016
Euro 2016 hosts France have not kicked a competitive football since losing to eventual World Cup winners Germany in the quarter-finals two years ago in Brazil.
That, and the absence of four or five central defenders from Didier Deschamps’ squad, are thought to be no disadvantage.
Coral make Les Bleus 3/1 outright favourites for Euro 2016 and odds-on at 2/7 to win Group A, which also contains first-time tournament qualifiers Albania, Romania and Switzerland.
History between teams
As host nation, France will kick the tournament off against a Romanian outfit that boasted the best defence in qualifying. Four of their last five meetings have been drawn.
The Swiss, meanwhile, who appeal most in a 6/4 straight forecast to finish second behind the French, have never lost to Albania, and this match will have particular significance.
Considerable immigration from the old Yugoslvaia to Switzerland occurred a generation ago, so many footballers representing the latter nation are sons of those who fled oppression.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who was born in the disputed region of Kosovo, scored home and away in Euro 2012 qualifying against Albania.
Romania, 5/6 chances to qualify for the knockout phase, then take on the Swiss with a very close head-to-head record, and this will be a first competitive meeting since the 1994 World Cup in the USA. Current England boss Roy Hodgson masterminded a 4-1 Switzerland victory then.
Les Bleus lost away to Albania when playing them in a friendly 12 months ago and were held at home the previous autumn. The French do have a 100 per cent record in competitive clashes, though.
France finish their group against their neighbours the Swiss, who they first played in an international way back in 1905, yet first played competitively at Euro 2004 and Les Bleus have never lost a game of significance.
These two have met at two of the last three World Cups, with Deschamps’ side romping to a 5-2 success in Brazil two years ago.
Olivier Giroud, Blaise Matuidi and Moussa Sissoko were all on target for the French then, while new Arsenal signing Granit Xhaka got one of Switzerland’s consolation goals late on.
Albania and Romania met in qualifying for the last two European Championships, with two draws as neither reached Euro 2012. Before that, the Romanians did the double en route to Euro 2008.
Real Madrid frontman Karim Benzema is the most high-profile French name to miss the Euros and is joined by diminutive playmaker/winger Mathieu Valbuena. Deschamps wants no discord in Les Bleus’ camp, and left both out for non-football reasons.
France are also without Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho, who failed a drugs test; fellow centre backs Jeremy Mathieu, Raphael Varane and Kurt Zouma, plus holding midfielder Lassana Diarra, all through injury.
Deschamps also left out former Newcastle United flop Hatem Ben Arfa, who has revived his career at Nice, and Kevin Gameiro, a Europa League winner with Sevilla.
Gokhan Inler, meanwhile, moved to Leicester City last summer, but has been peripheral to their Premier League title triumph. Stripped of the Swiss national captaincy, he is joined by striker Josip Drmic in missing Euro 2016.
Also absent for Switzerland are defensive duo Philippe Senderos and Timm Klose, with Alexandru Iulian Maxim missing for Romania.
Previous tournament success
When hosting Euro 1984 and the 1998 World Cup, France went all the way and lifted the trophies. They also followed up on that latter home soil success with a second European title in 2000.
It’s been slim picking since then, however, with a penalty shoot-out loss to Italy at the 2006 World Cup final the closest Les Bleus have come since.
Switzerland have never been beyond the group stage of the European Championship in three attempts, but did get to the last eight of their own hosted World Cup in 1954.
Romania made the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000 quarter-finals, but have gone no further, while Albania are making their major tournament debut.
Group A fixtures
France v Romania, Friday 10 June, 20:00, ITV
Albania v Switzerland, Saturday 11 June, 14:00, BBC One
Romania v Switzerland, Wednesday 15 June, 17:00, ITV
France v Albania, Wednesday 15 June, 20:00, ITV
Romania v Albania, Sunday 19 June, 20:00 BBC
Switzerland v France, Sunday 19 June, 20:00 BBC