MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) analyses the first fixture from Euro 2016 as hosts France face Romania from the Stade de France on Friday night.
France v Romania | Friday 20.00 | ITV1
Release the hounds! Euro 2016 has finally arrived…
Tournament hosts France kick-off the competition on Friday night with a Group A contest against Romania in Paris with the home side heavily fancied to open their account with a comfortable victory.
Les Blues have been all the rage with punters over the past six months and now Didier Deschamps’ troops must deliver when it matters most. The layers certainly aren’t taking any chances in the curtain-raiser with France just 1/3 (Betfred) to take maximum points.
Before we wade knee-deep into the fancied French, it’s worth just pointing out the rather poor record of competition hosts and co-hosts in opening European Championship tournament matches. Quite remarkably, only Ukraine (2012) have picked up three points in their first fixture since 1984.
It’s also rather grey when checking out the goals trends. Opening European Championship matches average just 1.89 goals-per-game since the tournament was increased to eight teams in 1980, with only two of nine contests featuring Over 2.5 Goals winners.
Although France are naturally favoured to make a winning start to Euro 2016, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest Friday’s fixture may fail to really spark into life, at least from a goals perspective.
Les Blues will be expected to dominate possession and will probably camp themselves inside Romania’s half for the majority of the match with the underdogs taking a clear preference to sitting deep, digging in and staying as compact as possible in their 4-2-3-1 formation.
Despite recent friendly results, the Tricolorii tend to be involved in tight arm-wrestles as Anghel Iordanescu’s charges cede possession to their opposition, relying on set-pieces, moments of magic and counter-attacks for goals.
France have had major problems defending dead-ball situations under Deschamps and the emergence of Romanian playmaker Nicolae Stanciu – an excellent weapon from set-pieces – will give the underdogs hope.
But Romania’s opportunities are likely to be few and far between. No Tricolorii player scored more than twice during qualification and only two squad members have scored double-figures for the national side, highlighting their lack of offensive threat.
Florin Andone has scored consistently in Spain’s second tier this season but the Tricolorii will aiming to frustrate France first and foremost.
The deeply religious Iordanescu is aware of the limitations to his side but has crafted a team built on unity, organisation, work ethic and nullifying their opponents. For example, aggressive midfield destroyers Mihai Pintilii and Ovidiu Hoban lack the creativity to excite but excel in breaking the game up.
Romania boasted the best defensive record en-route to France, shipping just two goals. But five outings ended all square with their first nine qualifiers all failing to break the Over 2.5 Goals barrier. The Yellows managed a paltry tally of 11 goals in a rather soft pool topped by Northern Ireland.
Obviously France have centre-backs Mamadou Sakho, Raphael Varane, Jeremy Mathieu and Kurt Zouma all absent, as well as defensive midfielder Lassana Diarra, making their backline appear particularly vulnerable.
However, N’Golo Kante’s elevation into the first XI should steady nerves despite accident-waiting-to-happen Adil Rami joining Laurent Koscielny at centre-half. The hosts have shipped eight goals in their past five outings but I’d be surprised to see their backline come under serious threat on Friday.
For Les Blues, failing to get off the mark with a win is an unthinkable prospect. France hold a rather unimpressive recent record in this competition – W1-D2-L5, failing to score in five of those eight outings – but Deschamps’ men arrive in the capital in fine fettle.
The hosts have W9-D0-L1 since June last year with their only reverse coming against England at Wembley, just days after the traumatic terrorist attacks in Paris.
It’s often difficult to judge non-competitive internationals but France’s well-stocked squad and home advantage should prove decisive so backing Les Blues to squeeze out a low-scoring victory makes sense.
Only 8/22 (36%) of Romania’s competitive internationals since Euro 2012 produced Over 2.5 Goals – include France’s meaningful matches across the same sample and cumulatively the two teams have seen just 15/37 (41%) matches break the Over 2.5 Goals barrier.
The first round of group games since Euro ’96 have averaged 2.20 goals-per-game and it’s also worth noting Romania have conceded three or more goals in only three matches since 2009 – they’re rarely opened up.
France have enough quality in their locker to eke out a win but it might not be the cakewalk the pre-match odds suggest. Therefore, backing both the 1-0 (49/10 Marathon) and 2-0 (9/2 Bet365) correct scores appeals.
It may also be wise to back France to lead 1-0 at half-time at 2/1 with Bet365. The hosts have led at the interval in each of their past eight victories.