A year later than expected, the 2020 European Championships start today (yes, even if we are in 2021) with France, the world champion as a big favorite.
This is a position familiar to France. He was the favorite as host of Euro 2016, but suffered a surprise loss to Portugal in the final and then again in the 2018 World Cup, where he lifted the trophy.
France are chasing back-to-back tournament wins and a third European Championship, a competition they last won in 2000. Here’s why France looks set to lift the trophy on July 11.
Coach Didier Deschamps has an extremely impressive team to call on. His favorite top pick 11 is tournament best and looks well balanced. Experienced goalkeeper Hugo LLoris is behind a strong central defensive pair from Raphael Varane and Presnel Kimpembe. The key couple in the midfield are Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, mercurial but extremely talented, just out of a Champions League final which confirmed him as the best in the world in his post.
In attack, France is really spoiled. FC Barcelona’s Antoine Griezmann and Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé are set to form a formidable trio with returning Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema (more on him below).
In a tournament where injuries from tired players seem inevitable, France could also field a full second 11 that would likely go far in the competition. The quick Ousmane Dembélé and the wily Giroud are excellent attacking options to play. The fact that they, and players like impressive Sevilla center-back Jules Koundé, are not likely to start matches shows the wealth of resources Deschamps have at their disposal.
Many of Deschamps’ team were World Cup winners three years ago. They know what it takes to reach the final of a major tournament and how to handle the pressure when they get there.
Most of the top 11 expected also have recent experience playing in Europe’s most important club games, including the Champions League final. Captain Lloris is a cool head and a proven leader for club and country.
After a grueling season, experience will be crucial to navigate the tournament and France have a lot of it.
Can something stop France?
A factor against Blues is his group. Drawn into what is certainly the “death group” of Euro 2020, France will face Germany, Euro 2016’s nemesis Portugal and Hungary in Budapest. France should still qualify for the round of 16, especially since this extended tournament with 24 teams allows us to move forward even with a misstep. But the first game on June 15 against a Germany that has something to prove could create nervousness if France is defeated.
There are also other strong teams outside of Group F. England have a young and attacking team, Portugal and Spain are full of technical qualities, Belgium are ranked world number one and Italy have been undefeated since. 27 matches. In the knockout phase, where anything can happen during a one-off match between tired players, it is not inconceivable that France will be sent home.
Then there is the question of whether the thing most likely to stop France is France itself. The shock call for Benzema is the first he has received since 2015. It was because he was allegedly involved in a sex-tape blackmail case against a former teammate. Benzema denies having committed a wrongdoing. For all of his unmistakable talent as a goalscorer, how will the 33-year-old’s introduction to a well-established squad change the dynamics, if at all?
There is also an apparent tension between star man Mbappe and Giroud. Giroud’s comments after France’s victory over Bulgaria this week have been interpreted as a dig at Mbappe and his failure to pass the ball to Giroud. Although she made the headlines, there is a feeling that this “feud” may have been overblown.
If France can avoid such distractions, this time next month, it will be a surprise to see another sacred nation crowned European champions.