France have won the European Championship on two previous occasions, in 1984 and in 2000. In 1984 they qualified as hosts and defeated Spain 2-0 in the final. In 2000 they needed a golden goal from David Trezeguet to beat Italy 2-1 in Rotterdam.
The 1984 tournament is best remembered for the brilliance of Michel Platini who captained the side and scored a record nine goals including one in the final. It was the country’s first major International football trophy. The star of the tournament in 2000 was Zinedine Zidane as France followed up their World Cup triumph of 1998 to become the first team since Germany in 1974 to hold both titles at the same time.
French coach Didier Deschamps was capped over a hundred times for his country as a player and captained the side to their 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro victories. He always looked likely to succeed in a managerial role and won the 2009/10 Ligue 1 title as coach of Olympique de Marseille. He was appointed coach of the National side in July 2012 and the French Football Federation extended his contract to Euro 2016 after their 3-2 aggregate play-off victory over Ukraine.
France started the World Cup in Brazil as outsiders but were considered one of the success stories of the tournament. They topped their group with two wins and a draw, scoring eight goals in their opening two matches. They beat Nigeria with two late goals to reach the quarter-finals where they were beaten 1-0 by subsequent champions Germany.
One of the stars to emerge from the World Cup was Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema. In October 2013 Benzema ended a drought for his country that had lasted more than 20 hours of football. He scored his side’s final goal in a 6-0 win over Australia. He also scored a controversial goal in the playoffs against Ukraine.
Benzema had failed to make the squad for the World Cup in 2010 but would lead the attack in 2014. He was named man of the match after scoring twice in the opening 3-0 win over Honduras and he also scored in the 5-2 win over Switzerland. He is now established in the Real Madrid starting line-up although competition remains fierce with a host of star players in the squad.
Deschamps has not shut the door on any new players forcing their way into the team before Euro 2016 but has warned that they will have to earn their place. He is insisting that his players treat every friendly match as a competitive fixture so that he can judge every player on their merits.
The squad formed an excellent unified group during the fifty days that they spent together at the World Cup in Brazil. That was a far cry from recent tournaments where the French had acquired a reputation for in-fighting and personal rivalry.
The only absentees from his World Cup squad so far have been the retired Mickael Landreau and the injured Olivier Giroud. Barring further injury, it seems safe to assume that the bulk of his squad for Euro 2016 is already firmly in place.
It will take an exceptional talent to break up the midfield trio of Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye. Karim Benzema is well supported by Antoine Griezmann and Mathieu Valbuena up front. Another foregone conclusion is that Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane will be at centre-half, although there is competition for places elsewhere in defence.
Prospects and Odds
France’s bold showing at the World Cup has seen their odds tumble for Euro 2016. The host nation are always believed to be at an advantage, Brazil’s 7-1 mauling by Germany at the World Cup aside. They are currently clear second favourites behind their World Cup conquerors at around 5-1 in betting odds at Bet365.
Didier Deschamps has restored belief in the side after a disastrous fall from grace saw them plummet to 25th in the official FIFA World Rankings in 2013. They have now risen to number seven and have a strong and settled squad as they prepare for Euro 2016. Their lack of truly competitive matches in the build-up is a slight concern but, with home support, they look certain to be leading contenders.