A 5-Point Plan to Take France to Euro 2016 Glory
The 2016 UEFA European Championship gets underway on Friday when hosts France take on Romania at Stade de France in Paris in the opening Group A clash.
Didier Deschamps’ men are among the favourites to win the tournament and ultimately a third continental crown.
With Switzerland and Albania as their two other group opponents, they have been gifted a favourable draw.
Once into the latter stages, the French will have to face a big European rival at some point. However, that may well only happen in the semi-finals—assuming the hosts make it that far.
Les Bleus have a proud history on home soil, having won two of their three international titles—Euro 1984 and the 1998 FIFA World Cup—within their borders. Their other continental triumph—at Euro 2000—was acquired in neighbouring Belgium.
If France are to finish this summer as champions, then a number of things must happen. Here is a five-point plan to take Deschamps and his players to Euro 2016 glory.
5. Master Defending from Set Pieces
Unless France learn how to deal with set pieces, they have no chance of winning a third international title on home soil.
After the 4-2 friendly win over Russia at Stade de France back in March, the percentage of goals conceded from dead-ball situations under Deschamps’ leadership stood at a whopping 49.
49% - France have conceded 49% of their goals from set piece situation under Didier Deschamps (19/39). Shortcoming.
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 30, 2016
Neither of Cameroon’s goals in last Monday’s 3-2 win over Hugo Broos’ men in Nantes came from set pieces—although Dimitri Payet’s winner did—so that figure will have dropped slightly.
However, concessions of this nature will still account for almost half of the goals shipped by Les Bleus under the '98 World Cup and Euro 2000-winning former captain.
This cannot be allowed to continue. The French must simply stop conceding such sloppy goals or they can kiss goodbye to their hopes of ultimately winning this summer’s tournament.
They might get away with it in Group A, but once into the latter stages, there will be better teams capable of exploiting this weakness than the likes of Romania, Switzerland and Albania.
4. Finish Top of Group A
Before France start to worry about who they might face in the latter stages of Euro 2016, Les Bleus must first ensure they finish top of Group A.
If Deschamps’ men have beaten Romania and Albania ahead of the Switzerland clash, then the hosts can start considering who their first knockout opponent will be.
However, to do so before then—or before the Swiss clash is out of the way—would be foolish and an invitation for trouble.
In Brazil at the 2014 World Cup, this happened to Spain, and after a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of the Netherlands in their opening Group B encounter; Vicente del Bosque’s men were unable to recover in time to avoid a 2-0 loss to Chile.
Before the Spanish had even played their third and final group match—a 3-0 win over Australia—the defending champions had been sent packing in arguably the biggest shock of that tournament.
France must make a fast start against Romania this week and then confirm their place in the latter stages with a second victory against Albania.
If Les Tricolores can take care of these two winnable early fixtures, the Switzerland game should not be an issue.
3. Avoid Rotating Players in Group Stage
If the 2014 World Cup in Brazil taught Deschamps anything, it should have been that making wholesale changes to a team that has won its two opening matches has the potential to derail its momentum for the remainder of the tournament.
After an opening 3-0 win over Honduras and a 5-2 smashing of Switzerland, France were looking good to exit Group E in South America with maximum points.
However, after Deschamps made a host of changes to his starting XI for the 0-0 draw with Ecuador, the group’s early momentum was lost.
The likes of Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba both suffered drops in form, and neither player really recovered after that.
This time around, Deschamps must avoid the temptation to rotate his players and instead go with his strongest possible starting XI in each game—even if safe passage to the latter stages is guaranteed after the first two fixtures.
The 47-year-old has been largely consistent in his selections for recent friendlies and must stay that way if he wants to lead his players on a deep run this summer.
2. Draw Upon Home Support
In the friendly victories over Cameroon and Scotland, it has been clear that the supporters of the host nation are very much up for Euro 2016.
The atmosphere at Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes and Stade Saint-Symphorien in Metz, although not tournament venues, was electric and was hopefully only a taste of what is to come at Stade de France, Stade Velodrome in Marseille and Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille.
If France are to go far this summer, then they will need the fans to play their part and roar them on to glory.
Since coming back from the dead to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil by beating Ukraine 3-2 in a narrow play-off victory, the French public have a newfound respect for Les Bleus.
That feel-good factor still surrounds the team, and Deschamps will be hoping his players can ride it to success on home soil.
Should their own supporters turn against them during the tournament, which is unlikely barring major controversy, then winning a third European Championship and fourth international title overall will become a much tougher task.
1. Look to the Past for Inspiration
With the captain of France’s 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000-winning teams now coaching the current side, the players probably need no reminding of what it takes to win an international tournament like this.
Regardless, Deschamps should keep hammering the point home that he was part of a successful squad in two of Les Bleus’ three major triumphs and keep offering his advice and guidance.
Michel Platini, Jean Tigana and Alain Giresse were just a few of the names heavily associated with the French victory of 1984, while Deschamps, Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Fabien Barthez and Emmanuel Petit are all figures that this current group probably grew up idolising from '98.
Deschamps is there to be respected as coach, but he should also serve as something of a mascot for this team, a tangible reminder that France can triumph on home soil.