We continue our Euro 2020 previews with a focus on France, as the world champions look to add another trophy to their tally with a strong Chelsea influence, including three current Blues in a squad managed by one of our former players…
France – Group F
The French, led by former Chelsea midfielder Didier Deschamps, go into Euro 2020 as almost universal favourites, but with painful memories to overcome.
They would fit that bill purely on the strength of their squad, with Deschamps able to call upon some of the world’s best talent all over the pitch, with a depth on the bench to match, but when you add in their triumph in Russia at the 2018 World Cup, it is easy to understand why they are so fancied to lift another trophy.
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It would complete a historical repeat for Deschamps, who followed up victory in the 1998 World Cup as a player by captaining France to glory at the following Euro 2000 tournament, as part of a squad which also included three Chelsea players.
However, France were also the favourites at the last European Championship, hosted on home soil in 2016, before losing the final to Portugal. That painful loss seemed to galvanise the squad for the 2018 World Cup, but it remains to be seen whether it will provide added motivation or extra weight on their shoulders another three years on.
The signs have certainly been promising, as they have shown a defensive solidity to match their enviable attacking talent, conceding just six goals in their 10 qualifying fixtures for this tournament, and more recently went undefeated in the Nations League group stage with five wins and one draw.
International tournaments always seem to throw up a ‘Group of Death’, but that moniker has rarely been so deserved as it is for Group F at Euro 2020, as it includes the European Championship holders and the last two world champions, leaving three of the four semi-finalists from Euro 2016 in the same group.
France will need to start strong as they open their campaign away in Munich against a Germany side – potentially featuring Chelsea's Kai Havertz, Antonio Rudiger and Timo Werner – who are many people’s second-favourites to win the competition. The Germans have long been respected as a side who save their best football for tournaments under veteran coach Joachim Low, although there remain question marks with their latest rebuild proving to be Low’s most difficult.
Les Bleus then face the odd one out of the group, with Hungary the only country of the four never to have won the European Championship. However, the lack of pressure, combined with the backing of their fans as they play two of their matches at home in Budapest with a potentially full stadium, means they could cause a surprise or two, as they did when topping a group that included Portugal in Euro 2016.
Portugal eventually won the last Euros, before adding the Nations League title, and are in the same group as Hungary again. Led by talismanic captain Cristiano Ronaldo, they have lost just two of their games since the 2018 World Cup, although one of those was against France in the Nations League late last year.
N’Golo Kante has become as important for France as he is for Chelsea, his midfield partnership with good friend Paul Pogba being at the heart of Les Bleus’ side for several years now. The only thing which could have prevented him from resuming that role were fitness concerns following his injury late in the season, but they now seem to have receded after Kante returned to play the full 90 minutes of our Champions League final victory and start France’s warm-up friendly against Bulgaria.
Olivier Giroud looked almost certain to join Kante in the line-up for the opening match with Germany until France’s squad was announced, resuming the role leading their attack he performed so well at Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.
Deschamps has remained loyal to his striker and publicly underlined the vital part Giroud plays for his team on a number of occasions, feeling he gets the best out of fellow forwards Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann. However, the recall of Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema from international exile means there is added competition for Giroud this time around.
Kurt Zouma is more likely to play a support role for Deschamps, as he did in qualifying, with Presnel Kimpembe and Raphael Varane forming the manager’s seemingly preferred centre-back pairing over the last year.
Germany v France, Allianz Arena, Tuesday 15 June, 8pm
Hungary v France, Puskas Arena, Saturday 19 June, 2pm
France v Portugal, Puskas Arena, Wednesday 23 June, 8pm
If France win their group they will play one of the third-placed sides from Group A (Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, Wales), Group B (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Russia) or Group C (Austria, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Ukraine).
If France come second they will play the winner of Group D (Croatia, Czech Republic, England, Scotland).
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Mike Maignan (Lille), Steve Mandanda (Marseille)
Defenders: Lucas Digne (Everton), Leo Dubois (Lyon), Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Jules Kounde (Sevilla), Clement Lenglet (Barcelona), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea)
Midfielders: Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), N’Golo Kante (Chelsea), Thomas Lemar (Atletico Madrid), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham Hotspur), Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich)
Forwards: Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona), Olivier Giroud (Chelsea), Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Marcus Thuram (Borussia Monchengladbach)