This summer, France will host Europe’s biggest international football tournament, and their fans will be quietly hopeful that their team will be able to repeat the heroics of 1998 and 2000, and deliver an international trophy.
They might well have every reason to be expectant, France find themselves with arguably the best pool of players to choose from since that World Cup success in ‘98, and with the luck usually afforded to tournament hosts, it might just be their year.
Since their triumphant spells in 1998 and the European Championships of 2000, France has had a tumultuous relationship with international football.
The 2002 World Cup in South Korea was an unmitigated disaster. The French were hotly tipped to continue their international dominance, but any optimism was quickly doused after an earth shattering defeat to lowly Senegal.
They would go on to fail to score a single goal in the group stages and exited at the first stage.
The glow that had surrounded French football was beginning to fade, but with players of the ilk of Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane, a return to former promise never seemed out of the question.
Euro 2004 was seen as a chance for the French to reaffirm their broken reputation, and after a promising start, including victory over rivals England, the French looked to be back to their prominent best.
However, just as in Korea two years earlier, the French supporters were subjected to another tournament shock, as Greece, the eventual surprise winners, dumped them out at the Quarter Final stage.
The French would again have to rebuild, but the 2006 World Cup would came as one last shot for France’s golden generation to express themselves on the International stage.
Raymond Domenech’s men had struggled in qualifying, but after persuading various members of the old guard to return, the French began to once more flourish in Germany.
After victories against Spain, Brazil, and Portugal, they reached the final, which would see a repeat of Euro 2000’s climax, as they squared off against Italy.
This game was to be the symbol of French football, Zinedine Zidane’s, last game in a glittering career, but unfortunately for France, it ended in much the same vain as the previous tournament efforts, complete farce.
At a pivotal moment in the match, Zidane was sent off for a uncharacteristic head butt on Italian defender Marco Materazzi, and as he disappeared, so did France’s hopes of claiming another World Cup Title.
Euro 2008 provided further heart ache for French football fans, as they failed to make it beyond the group stage, while the 2010 World Cup again symbolized the turbulent years since their last International success, as a mutinous air swept through the squad.
After a bust up with Nicholas Anelka, Raymond Domenech faced a backlash from his players, which resulted in them refusing to take part in a training session ahead of their final group match.
France again crashed out of the group stage, and the future success of the national side was truly left in the balance.
Since the disgraceful events of 2010, France has performed much better in tournaments.
Euro 2012 was no disgrace as they were knocked out by a Spain side many profess to be one of the greatest international teams of all time, whilst the 2014 World Cup also saw them knocked out by eventual champion’s Germany.
France has ridden out the worse of recent woes, and they now possess a side full of emerging young talent, as well as older statesmen who have learnt from the failings of previous years.
This will be sure to serve them well come kick-off in June.
Being the host nation for a major international tournament can often aid a team’s chances of success, of course there are cases were it instead becomes a burden, just ask Brazil, but particularly in the European Championships, history suggests that home advantage can count in the host’s favour.
Since its inauguration, three host nations have won the competition, while neighbouring countries have won it on four occasions.
France won in Belgium in 2000, Denmark in Sweden at Euro 92, Holland in Germany at Euro 88, and Czechoslovakia in Yugoslavia at Euro 1976.
Even while failing to win the trophy, host nations have generally performed well.
Portugal managed to reach the final in 2004, England were unlucky to lose in the semi-finals in 96, and Germany were Semi-finalist’s in 88, and it is not too much of a stretch to suggest the French will carry this on come the summer.
France themselves have a rich history of strong tournament performances when selected as the host nation. France have hosted two European Championships, coming fourth in 1960, while winning in 1984.
They have also hosted two World Cups, losing in the quarter-finals in 1938, and winning the trophy in 1998.
It is a strong record, and with a young squad bristling with talented individuals, it will come as no surprise if France makes it to the latter stages in the summer.
France truly has quality in every single department, every area of the pitch is covered by a blend of seasoned professionals and talent youth players, and Deschamps will have no shortage of options this summer.
In goal, Hugo Loris represents one of the safest pair of hands on the continent, while defensively they have a back line, which would compete with any of the other European superpowers.
In Raphael Varane, they have a young centre back that is destined to reach the very pinnacle of the game, while stalwarts such as Patrice Evra, help too add experience, and harden their defence.
It is perhaps in midfield where France’s talents truly become apparent.
France has an abundance of technically gifted midfield schemers, and arguably the greatest selection pool in all of Europe.
Paul Pogba is a clear standout, while Premier League revelation’s, Dimitri Payet, and N’Golo Kante, help to give the French true squad versatility, a facet present in almost all of the previous Euro’s winning sides.
Kante’s industry, and Payet’s flair, are bound to give the French the edge come the cagey Knockout rounds, while Pogba’s power and technique would be enough to marshal any midfield in the competition.
Since Karim Benzema’s exclusion, after a truly bizarre blackmail story, one critic which has been hauled at France has been there lack of an established striker.
However, players such as Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial, and Kingsley Coman, have all had excellent seasons at their clubs, and look ready to spearhead the French attack this summer.
Griezmann has become one of the most coveted players in world football, and in one season, Anthony Martial has established himself as Manchester United’s main outfield threat, and so the French will have plenty of firepower to cover for the loss of Benzema.
In fact, both players’ versatility may prove to be a key weapon in France’s bid for glory, as their ability to carry the ball in tight spaces will prove vital come the latter stages.
With history on their side, and a group of players that incite envy in the majority of other footballing nations, France very well could be the team to stop this summer.
Germany and Spain both look distant relics of their bygone successful eras, while other rivals, such as Italy and Belgium, have looked cumbersome in their qualifying rounds.
If France can find their stride early, and use home support to create a harmony, which has previously been missing, ‘Les Bleus’ might just be adding to their international honors’ list come the 10th July.
France is currently the bookmakers’ favourite to win the Euros, as short as 3/1 but as big as 7/2, they are locked in a battle with current world champions, Germany, as to who will start in poll position to win.
Spain (11/2), England (8/1) and Belgium (11/1) are also in contention according to the odds compilers, together with Italy (16/1) and Portugal (20/1), but it is France that gets the nod to emerge victorious.