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World Cup finalists France race into Euro 2024 as favourites for the crown

By Paul Myers - RFI
Sports News © AFP - KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV
FRI, 14 JUN 2024 LISTEN
© AFP - KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV

If Didier Deschamps leads France to victory in Germany, he will become only the second person, after German Berti Vogts, to win a European Championship as both a player and a manager. 

And as politicians from across the spectrum ponder their words and antics ahead of the votes in France on 30 June and 7 July, France boss Deschamps will juggle with the tactics to enable his squad to seize the spoils they effectively threw away four years ago.

France went into the 2020 competition – delayed to 2021 due to Covid-19 –  as favourites following their victory at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

But after leading Switzerland 3-1 in the last-16, they were pegged back to 3-3 and lost in a penalty shoot-out. Star striker Kylian Mbappé missed the decisive kick.

Three years on, Mbappé,25, will skipper the France squad in what will be a dress rehearsal for his grand opening in La Liga at Real Madrid in August.

The France team – whcih occupies second place in the Fifa rankings – will include a host of the usual suspects such as Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembélé.

There is a surprise recall for the Saudi-based N'Golo Kanté. The 33-year-old has not featured for France since June 2022 due to a loss of form and injuries.

“He has had a full season, albeit not in a European league, where he has regained his full physical fitness,” Deschamps declared.

“We followed him regularly. He was able to regain all his footballing and athletic skills by playing a lot of matches. The situation was clear in my mind. I took this decision because I think the French team will be stronger with him.”

Goal

France open theirGroup D campaign on 17 June in Düsseldorf against Austria. Four days later in Leipzig, they face the Netherlands and France finish their group stage duties on 25 June against Poland in Dortmund.

The top two from each of the six groups qualify automatically for the last-16 knockout phase along with the four best third-placed teams.

Hosts Germany, who kick off the tournament on Friday night at the Allianz Arena in Munich against Scotland, need to perform.

"Die Mannschaft" – as the team are nicknamed – have been abject of late and a far cry from the efficient, all-conquering behemoth that inspired the quip from the former England striker Gary Lineker: "Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win."  Danke schön, Gary.

Elimination after the group stages at the 2018 World Cup was considered a national catastrophe. Boss Joachim Löw kept his job and led them to the last-16 at Euro 2020. Under Hansi Flick at the 2022 World Cup, Germany were ejected after the group stages.

"We're not here just to say hello but we still have to be humble,” said Germany defender Antonio Rüdiger, who was at Chelsea with Kanté when the west London side won the Champions League in 2021.

“We don't have to talk about past tournaments, we all know what happened there.

“It's been up and down for us all the way here and that's why we have to be humble. The first match is very important and then we'll see what happens during the rest of the tournament.”

Target

Organisers will try to ensure the football remains centre stage. However, the 17th European championships –  the third to boast 24 teams –  will be played in a the shadow of the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Euro 2024 organisers Uefa, like world football'sgoverning body Fifa, have banned the Russia team from all international competitions.

Ukraine, though, qualified. They begin in Group E against Romania in Munich on 17 June and face Slovakia four days later. Their pool stage campaign culminates in Stuttgart on 26 June against tournament favourites Belgium.

It seems more out of politeness and a nod to history that Germany have been pushed up to the rank of favourites.

"I'm mainly asking for belief ... belief in ourselves," said Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann. "We want to be one of the best teams in this cup.

"Of course, there's a lot of anticipation because it's a huge event,” Nagelsmann added. “It's probably not just Europe, but the whole world that will be watching how the Euros will go.”

Not only for the footballing flashpoints. Elections to the European Parliament – the legislature for the 27-member European Union – showed a surge in nationalist and far-right sentiment, which has often reared its head violently at football stadiums, particularly among hard core fans during international tournaments. The threat of terrorism and a series of attacks on politicians in Germany have increased the angst.

German authorities have responded by stepping up border controls during the tournament and deploying more than 20,000 police officers to patrol the 10 venues that will host the 51 matches.

Contenders

The 2020 runners-up England will launch their bid for a first European title from Group C where they will pit their wits against Serbia, Slovenia and Denmark.

Italy will begin the the defence of their crown against Albania in Dortmund on 15 June. They will then take on Spain and a Croatia side featuring 38-year-old Luka Modric fresh from a Champions League triumph with Real Madrid.

Just as evergreen, a 39-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo will turn out for Portugal despite decamping to the Saudi Pro League outfit Al Nassr in 2023. 

It will be a record sixth European championship for the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star who has scored 47 goals in 49 appearances since moving to the Middle East.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner – who skippered Portugal to the 2016 crown – will be looking to add to his 25 appearances and 14 goals at the Euros.

"Cristiano had very consistent performances at his club," said Portugal boss Roberto Martinez who refused to guarantee the veteran a place in the starting line-up.

"There is no doubt that he is an incredible scorer but we have 23 players and we create competitiveness. Cristiano is prepared to help the team and give everything he can give.

"And there is no other player in the world of soccer who can bring what Cristiano can to the changing room."

Just in....

Which team do you think has the higher chance of winning the 2024 elections?

Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024

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