Euro 2020 preview, Group F – France: Robin Bairner on why France are among the favourites
Our Matchday Squad will cover every nation at the Euros
For Euro 2020, we’ve assembled 24 expert journalists to give you the latest insight and tips on every team throughout the tournament.
Here, journalist Robin Bairner gives us his take on France…
Give us an overview of your team’s chances at Euro 2020
World champions France approach Euro 2020 with high hopes of another strong showing at a major international tournament. Didier Deschamps’ side were runners-up in 2016 and used the experience of that heartbreak to forge a strong team bond that saw them thrive in Russia three years ago.
Indeed, that unity within the squad is an often-overlooked strength of a team whose individuals turn out almost exclusively for the best clubs in European football.
From Hugo Lloris in goal through to Karim Benzema in attack, France have quality, but they also have balance, experience and youth. Indeed, only five members of the squad are over 30 – two of those are goalkeepers – and Deschamps will be hopeful that this translates to a team packed with energy after season that has been gruelling like no other.
Karim Benzema has been recalled to the international scene after a five-year absence, with the return of the Real Madrid man seen as a calculated risk to form a ‘Golden Triangle’ with Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe in attack. His presence, along with that of Adrien Rabiot in midfield, risks upsetting the delicate balance of team spirit, though.
France are, naturally, at Euro 2020 as one of the favourites.
What would you say are your team’s major strengths?
The experience of having won the World Cup in Russia in 2018 will be a major benefit to France as there are few squads with the knowhow of going all the way in international tournament football. During that run, they showed clear signs of having learned from their failed experience at Euro 2016 and came back stronger as a group.
France have always been blessed by talented individuals but have rarely been able to build effective competition squads. Their failure on home soil five years ago led them to reassess and they are now a better group for it. Even in a squad with enormous technical quality, this could make the difference for them.
And any weaknesses?
One of France’s strengths is that there are no dramatic area of weakness. Perhaps, however, they have an overreliance on N’Golo Kante in the centre of the field. When he has been teamed up with Paul Pogba at the start of a match, Les Bleus have never suffered a defeat.
However, they do not possess another defensive midfielder in the squad who has the tactical discipline and work rate of the Chelsea man. There is arguably no player in the world as effective as the role Kante plays, and France lean heavily on him. If he were to be injured or suspended, it would spell major trouble.
Give us the lowdown on your team’s star player?
France have leaders all over the field, but Kylian Mbappe will be the man in the spotlight during Euro 2020. The Paris Saint-Germain star is only 22 but is already regarded amongst the absolute elite in the world game. He already has 42 caps to his name, plus 16 goals and, of course, that World Cup winner’s medal.
Mbappe’s speed is often highlighted as his chief strength, but it is his ability to carry the ball at such pace and make quick and effective decisions that is truly remarkable.
He goes into the competition having broken the 40-goal mark for the first time in his career over a single season, having regularly been decisive in high-profile matches and there is still a sense there is more to come.
And tell us about a player from your team who could be a breakthrough star at this tournament?
France are in the entirely enviable position of having an experienced squad, almost all of whom play at the absolute elite level around Europe’s biggest leagues. With that in mind it is difficult to pick a breakout star.
Arguably the player best positioned to fall into this category is Lyon right-back Leo Dubois, who has emerged as one of the leading right-backs in Ligue 1 in recent months. Although he is unlikely to be a starter, his attacking qualities could see him introduced if France need an attacking injection when in a tight spot.
How far do you think your team can go in this tournament?
France have the capability to go all the way at Euro 2020, as their recent performances at major tournaments have shown. However, they face a very complicated group stage that will pit them against Germany in Munich as well as Hungary and Portugal in Budapest.
They have a favourable record against Germany, a close-fought one with Portugal and they have not played Hungary in a footballing generation. This is not a group in which they can afford to take anything for granted. Given the difficult nature of this fixture list, it is difficult to predict exactly where Les Bleus could finish in the group stage.
The latter stages of the Euros are inevitably highly competitive – perhaps more so than at the World Cup – and much will depend if France can chance upon one of the easier paths should they emerge out of the group stages as expected.
Easy one to finish with, who wins the tournament, and who do you think will be top scorer?
I’m backing Portugal to defend their title but Harry Kane to top score.