France downplay pressure to deliver

French national soccer team players take part in a training session at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, France on June 9.
French national soccer team players take part in a training session at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, France on June 9. PHOTO: EPA

GROUP A

France v Romania

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PARIS • A day before the final act in France's two-year dress rehearsal for Euro 2016, Didier Deschamps gathered his players together in the dressing room of the Stade Saint-Symphorien in Metz.

He is not, as a rule, a smashing teacups sort of a coach; his is the quiet authority of example. This time, though, he raised his voice as he issued his warning: "Il faut arreter de papillonner."

We must not flutter.

Viewed by many as one of the favourites to win the tournament, France will hope to shrug off their injury woes and off-field controversy when they face Romania in Group A at the Stade de France today.

Les Bleus' preparations on the field have been distracted by claims from striker Karim Benzema that his exclusion from the squad was racially motivated. His Real Madrid team-mate Raphael Varane will also miss the tournament due to a hamstring injury.

Yet, expectations are still high that a team boasting the precocious talents of Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Antoine Griezmann can repeat the feats of the French sides of 1998 and 1984 in winning the World Cup and European Championship respectively on home soil.

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    France have won six and drawn one of their seven tournament games (World Cup and Confederations Cup) at the Stade de France.

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    Romania have never won a European Championship opener, drawing three and losing one. Their last win over France came in April 1972, a 2-0 friendly success in Bucharest.

"We have the chance to play at home, there will be pressure, but it will be positive," said goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

Three goals in the final two warm-up matches for Olivier Giroud have come as a welcome relief for the striker after criticism of his ability to replace Benzema.

However, there is no doubting the talent surrounding Giroud, with Martial and Dimitri Payet of West Ham competing for a place in a front three also consisting of Griezmann, fresh from a 32-goal season with Atletico Madrid.

While France's forward line will be blessed with pace and youth, there will be plenty of experience at the back with the back four of Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Adil Rami and Patrice Evra.

Romania's hopes of springing a huge surprise will also be based around a solid defence as they conceded just twice in 10 matches in qualifying. However, they also struggled mightily for goals, scoring just 11 times.

"The pressure on France is greater. If we manage to get a draw it would be extraordinary, and if we win it would be fantastic," said Romania's assistant coach Viorel Moldovan. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE,

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2016, with the headline 'France downplay pressure to deliver'. Print Edition | Subscribe