Hosts France kick off Euro 2016 against Romania at Stade de France on Friday, with Didier Deschamps’ men rated as the favourites to win the tournament.
Two-time winners France are hoping to match Germany and Spain – teams who represent their main rivals for glory this year – by winning a third continental title.
Les Bleus are looking to become the first host nation to triumph in the competition since they achieved the feat themselves in 1984, but recent editions have seen them fail to make it beyond the quarter-finals since winning their last title in 2000.
France come into the event in fine form having won nine of their last 10 matches after rounding off their preparation with a 3-0 win over Scotland last Saturday.
Deschamps has a key selection dilemma in attack after star striker Karim Benzema was not considered for selection due to an ongoing legal investigation into an alleged plot to blackmail fellow international Mathieu Valbuena.
Antoine Griezmann is almost certain to fill one of the three attacking positions, with Kingsley Coman, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Olivier Giroud, Anthony Martial and Dimitri Payet fighting over the other two spots.
Giroud has been receiving a negative reaction from some parts of the France support despite scoring seven goals in his last five starts, while Payet produced a trademark free-kick to seal victory over Cameroon on May 30 – form which perhaps gives that duo the edge.
“Griezmann is happy,” Deschamps said to L’Equipe ahead of the match. “He had a long season with Atletico and our main priority was to give him some rest before the start of the tournament.
“Antoine has certain qualities that make him one of the best attackers around in Europe. He has always been a good player, but he has become more consistent.
“He will be ready, but he will not necessarily be the leader of our attack. I have six attackers with a lot of quality and with different profiles.”
After Lassana Diarra’s injury, Leicester City’s N’Golo Kante is hoping to fill the final midfield spot alongside Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba, while Adil Rami appears to have won the race to partner Laurent Koscielny at centre-back with a number of key defenders – including Raphael Varane – out injured.
With France seen as the team to beat in the competition, Europe may be expecting a home victory against Romania, but the visitors are not to be underestimated despite having only ever won one of their 13 Euros matches, a result which came against England at Euro 2000.
Les Bleus may be unbeaten in 10 matches against Romania, but four of the last five meetings have ended in draws, while Anghel Iordanescu’s men had the best defensive record in qualifying – only conceding twice in 10 games.
The two nations have met twice before in the tournament’s group stages, with France winning 1-0 in 1996 and a 0-0 draw at Euro 2008.
Romania are not a squad of seasoned internationals, though. The visitors have the second least experienced squad at the tournament with their 23 players having an average of just 22.4 caps at the start of June.
Key Opta Stats:
– Romania’s last victory against France was in April 1972. It was in a friendly in Bucharest that ended 2-0.
– France and Romania’s first encounter on French soil ended in a Romanian win back in March 1967. Since then, Romania have lost five of their seven away games against France (drawing the other two), scoring only two goals.
– France have won six and drawn one of their seven
tournament games at Stade de France (in the World Cup and Confederations Cup).
– Since (and including) 2004, only Ukraine in 2012 have won their opening game as tournament host or co-host.
– Romania have never won their opening game at the Euros (drawing three, losing one).
– Anghel Iordanescu is taking charge of Romania at a major tournament for the fourth time after World Cup 1994, Euro ’96 and World Cup 1998. His previous best performance was reaching the quarter-finals in ’94.
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