They have the home soil advantage and they intend to work it!! Stats have pros and cons in football but this one is pretty striking: In the last 18 World Cups and Euros, the hosts have won the tournament only twice. It was France both times, in 1984 and 1998.
When it comes to winning the competitions you organise, the French are really good at it. See it as a good omen or not, it’s another argument in Les Bleus’favour. They are one of the favourites to win this European Championship, even after all the withdrawals and players missing [Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane, Lassana Diarra, Mathieu Valbuena, Mathieu Debuchy, Mamadou Sakho], even after all the controversies, and even with the current atmosphere in the country, which has seen strikes and protests, as well as flooding.
It would be better, of course, if all those players were in the squad, if the preparation had been smooth and without issues and if the country was a bit more excited and ready for the tournament.
However, France are always better in adversity. In 1998, before the start of the World Cup, there were also strikes, the media was critical of head coach Aime Jacquet and the team, and the atmosphere was morose.
They stayed strong, believed in themselves and they did it. Like in 1998, this is an extremely gifted squad with players at the top of their game at the biggest European clubs, and we are not just talking about Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba or Anthony Martial.
There is a lot of experience in the side, both at the domestic and international level. There is character, too. A lot of Didier Deschamps’ players had to work hard to make the squad: Olivier Giroud, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Koscielny, N’Golo Kante, Morgan Schneiderlin, Patrice Evra, Adil Rami and Christophe Jallet all started their careers in the French lower leagues.
Even Griezmann could not find any academies in France that wanted to take him, so he had to go to Real Sociedad in Spain to start his career in the second division. Many of Deschamps’ men began at the bottom and now they are here, ready to win the Euros. They never gave up at the start of their career, even when the odds were against them to make it. In terms of experience, this is priceless. It means that when goings get tough, they work even harder.
Giroud was recently booed by some of his own fans before a friendly against Cameroon. He responded with three goals in two games. He now has seven in his last eight appearances for Les Bleus. No one is booing him anymore.
The last time a French squad seemed so happy together was back in 2006 when they reached the World Cup final. There is camaraderie. They are all friends, brothers even and, thought you don’t need to all love each other to win football matches, it’s better when the mood is as such. In 2008, 2010 or 2012, all the problems France had came down to egos, individualism and selfishness. This time, it is different. They are a proper team.
Evra, who has been part of problem-ridden squads in the past, said recentlythat he was ready to be pelted with stones to protect his teammates. There is competition too, more in certain positions than others but still. “I get on great with Olivier [Giroud] and I want him to win us matches but I am there behind him, pushing him to take his place too,” said Gignac on Tuesday.
They have a lucky charm as well in Deschamps. Everywhere he has been, as a player or as a manager, he has won trophies and plaudits. He is associated with winning and he has brought a winning mentality to this team. France have won 13 of their last 14 games now, with the lone defeat coming last November against England, days after the Paris terror attacks.
The French players can’t wait. We all know now, unless someone picks up an injury, what the starting XI will look like on Friday against Romania. Dimitri Payet will start up front with Giroud and Griezmann, ahead of Martial. Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and Kante will compose the midfield and the back five will be goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, along with Bacary Sagna, Rami, Laurent Koscielny and Evra.
With Varane, Kurt Zouma, Sakho, Mathieu, Aymeric Laporte and Debuchy out, Deschamps had to build a new defence and chose Rami to partner with Koscielny. It could be considered a surprise considering his last cap was three years ago, but the 30-year-old had a good season with Sevilla and starting him ahead of Eliquim Mangala means that Koscielny can stay on the left side of central defence. Rami was dreadful against Cameroon, but better in a 3-0 win against Scotland.
“Against Cameroon, it was his first cap in a very long time, he was a bit stressed,” Koscienly said about his teammate on Tuesday. “I told [Rami] to stay calm. He is capable of great things, he just needs to stay calm. I have faith in him, we all do. We are all united.”
France look strong everywhere — everything is united for success — and they are going to win Euro 2016 on July 10. You can bet on it. It is the sense of history. As we say in France, things always come in threes.
Julian Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter @LaurensJulien.