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France Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

Ahead of this summer's Euros, Sports Mole previews France's chances as they endeavour to go one better than their unsuccessful venture in 2016.

Seeking to add a third European Championship trophy to their glittering haul of international silverware, early favourites France prepare for battle against their continental foes for the eighth time running this summer.

Five years after Eder was the thorn in their side during the 2016 final against Portugal, the runners-up of that tournament are more desperate than ever to go one better this time around, and their performance at Russia 2018 suggests that they can do just that.

France's Antoine Griezmann celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Didier Deschamps masterminded Les Bleus' run to the World Cup final three years ago and lifted the famous trophy aloft following a crushing final win over Croatia, and the former midfield lynchpin has his sights firmly set on a first Euros triumph since 2000 for France.

The France manager captained Les Bleus to Euros glory that year - two years after leading his country to World Cup glory - and success for France this summer would see them go level with Spain and Germany, who lead the way on three titles apiece.

Here, Sports Mole provides an in-depth assessment of France's chances at the Euros.


GROUP

France form one quarter of the Euro 2020 group of death, as Deschamps seeks to overcome reigning European Champions Portugal and 2014 World Cup winners Germany en route to one of the two top spots in Group F.

Euros Group F

Les Bleus begin their campaign with a daunting trip to Munich to take on Germany on June 15, and their friendliest fixture of the group arrives four days later as they meet Hungary at the Puskas Arena in Budapest.

In a repeat of the 2016 final, France round off their group campaign against Portugal on June 23, and spots in the knockout stages will almost certainly still be up for grabs right up until the final whistle in Group F.

FIXTURES

June 15: France vs. Germany (8pm, Allianz Arena, Munich)
June 19: Hungary vs. France (2pm, Puskas Arena, Budapest)
June 23: Portugal vs. France (8pm, Puskas Arena, Budapest)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Despite eventually claiming top spot in qualifying Group H, France were pushed all the way by dark horses Turkey, who managed to take points off the world champions on both occasions throughout 2019.

Deschamps's crop struck four goals in back-to-back games against Moldova and Iceland to open their qualification campaign in style, but they would quickly be usurped at the top by Turkey, who claimed a 2-0 win over Les Bleus courtesy of goals from Kaan Ayhan and Cengiz Under on matchday three.

France's Antoine Griezmann celebrates qualifying for the Euro 2020 finals with team mates on November 17, 2019© Reuters

However, Turkey would go on to suffer a shock defeat to Iceland on matchday four, and France would take advantage by thrashing Andorra 4-0 before Kingsley Coman's brace helped them overcome Albania 4-1 at the halfway point.

Two victories with two clean sheets against Andorra and Iceland would follow - although they had to rely on an Olivier Giroud penalty to get over the line against the latter - and Ayhan proved to be the thorn in Deschamps's side once again on matchday eight as he struck an 82nd minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw.

That stalemate knocked the wind out of France's sails somewhat, but they still rounded off their qualifying campaign with 2-1 and 2-0 wins over Moldova and Albania respectively, though their first-placed standing in Group H was not confirmed until the final day as Turkey finished just two points behind the world champions.


RECENT FORM

France have performed exactly as world champions should since booking their spot at Euro 2020 - barring a minor friendly blip against Finland - and consecutive 3-0 successes over Wales and Bulgaria saw Deschamps's side warm up for the tournament in perfect fashion.

Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele were all on target against Wales on June 2, and Deschamps elected to name a similarly strong XI for their showdown with Bulgaria six days later, which saw Griezmann notch up another goal before Olivier Giroud's brace.

France's Ousmane Dembele celebrates scoring against Wales on June 2, 2021© Reuters

Four years on from their showdown in the Euro 2016 final, France gained a measure of revenge over Portugal by taking four points from their two clashes in the Nations League, and Les Bleus unsurprisingly topped their group to set up a clash with Belgium in the Nations League semi-finals.

The shock 2-0 friendly defeat to Finland represents France's only defeat since 2020 began, and despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Ukraine in their opening game of 2022 World Cup qualification, Deschamps's men recovered with back-to-back wins over Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Bleus manager surprised some by naming arguably his strongest XI for both friendly meetings ahead of the Euros, but they have reaped the rewards of an extended break in between matches, and Deschamps was quick to reassure fans that Karim Benzema's injury on Tuesday night was nothing serious.


SQUAD

France players warm up ahead of their game against Bulgaria on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Mike Maignan (LOSC Lille)

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), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea)

Midfielders: N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Thomas Lemar (Atletico Madrid), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham), Corentin Tolisso (Bayern)

Forwards: Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kingsley Coman (Bayern), Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona), Olivier Giroud (Chelsea), Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona), Kylian Mbappe (Paris), Marcus Thuram (Borussia Monchengladbach)


STAR PLAYER - KYLIAN MBAPPE

Kylian Mbappe shoots at goal for France on June 8, 2021© Reuters

With a World Cup winners' medal already under his belt, as well as countless individual accolades, Kylian Mbappe is just getting started. The 22-year-old was only a teenager when he propelled France to glory in Russia three years ago and travels to the Euros with a point to prove to potential suitors.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward's contract situation in the French capital is yet to be resolved and he continues to be linked with a summer transfer to another European superpower in Real Madrid or Liverpool, but firing France to more glory on the international stage ought to be his only concern at this moment in time.

Mbappe links up with Les Bleus having eased to the 2020-21 Ligue 1 Golden Boot with 27 strikes in 31 league appearances, and he amassed a total of 42 goals in 47 games across all tournaments in the 2020-21 campaign.

The former Monaco man has already netted 17 times in 44 games for France - with four of those goals coming in their triumphant 2018 World Cup campaign - but he failed to register a single goal contribution in any of France's Qatar 2022 qualifying matches in March.


MANAGER - DIDIER DESCHAMPS

France head coach Didier Deschamps pictured on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Approaching his nine-year anniversary as manager of France, Didier Deschamps has never been without his controversy, but the World Cup-winning manager is already being tipped to replicate his feats in Russia this summer.

The former Marseille, Chelsea and Juventus lynchpin is Les Bleus' longest-serving manager and arrived in the dugout with a relatively impressive CV from his early days in management, during which he took Monaco to the 2004 Champions League final and steered Marseille to the 2010 Ligue 1 title.

Deschamps has watched his France side prevail in 75 of his 113 games at the helm, during which time they have scored 225 goals, and his feats in 2018 unsurprisingly saw him scoop the FIFA Best Coach award for that year.

The 52-year-old added to his individual haul as recently as December 2020 when he was voted the IFFHS World's Best National Coach, and having suffered Euro 2016 heartbreak in the final against Portugal, he needs no added incentive to lift the trophy aloft this time around.


EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

Best finish: Winners (1984, 2000)

France players celebrate winning Euro 2000© Reuters

With two of their very own in Jules Rimet and Henri Delaunay playing prominent roles in the creation of the European Championship, France would host the inaugural tournament between four teams in 1960, but Les Bleus finished fourth at the first attempt as the Soviet Union marched to the trophy.

A 24-year absence from the Euros befell France before the luminaries of 1984 took centre stage, as France - hosting the tournament once again - struck two second-half goals through Michel Platini and Bruno Bellone to overcome Spain in the final and get their hands on the coveted prize.

A third-placed finish in the 1996 edition would precede Les Bleus' second successful endeavour in the tournament during Euro 2000, and the scrapped golden goal rule would prove to be France's friend and Portugal's foe in the semi-finals as Zinedine Zidane's 117th-minute penalty sent Roger Lemerre's side into the final, where they would meet Italy.

Six years before the two sides would renew hostilities in the 2006 World Cup final, Italy's Marco Delvecchio would slot home to break the deadlock in Rotterdam, but Sylvain Wiltord equalised in the third minute of second-half injury time before David Trezeguet's golden goal - and a stunning one at that - propelled France to their second triumph in the tournament.

A period of mediocrity would follow as France failed to advance past the quarter-final stage until Euro 2016, and despite playing against a Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal for the majority of the final, the forgotten man Eder scored an unforgettable winner in the 109th minute to force France to collect runners-up medals for the very first time.


PREDICTION

Having seamlessly conquered the world only three years ago, Deschamps's ever-improving crop ought to feel confident about their chances of progressing from the group of death as table-toppers, allowing them a favourable tie in the last-16 stage against one of the third-placed sides.

The possibility of Les Bleus renewing hostilities with beaten World Cup finalists Croatia and old foes Portugal en route to the final is very real indeed, but having fallen at the very final hurdle five years ago, we expect France to follow up their dominance of the world by conquering Europe for a record-equalling third time.

VERDICT: Winners

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