The first game of Group D ignites an old rivalry, England vs France. For the first time in a generation, the English national team come into the tournament with low expectations, no talk of the ‘Golden Generation’ and a plague of pre-tournament injuries. In contrary, the French arrive in Eastern Europe with expectation, with star players at the top of their game and a much different attitude to that of the self-destructing World Cup team from 2010.
After a strong qualification in which they finished top of their group, winning 5 and drawing 3, England’s troubles started in February after manager Fabio Capello quit amid conflict with the FA over the England captaincy. It wasn’t until three months later that the national team would have a manager, Roy Hodgson, leaving him just a few weeks to prepare for the European Championships.
But despite this upheaval they come into the tournament have only lost once in their last five games, including 1-0 wins against World Cup winner and current European Champions, Spain and fellow Group D team Sweden in November.
Similar to their opponents, France arrive after a good run of games, undefeated in their last 21, also topping their qualification group.
France will be looking to their experienced squad to produce the quality and discipline lacking in South Africa two years ago. Especially looking at La Liga winner, Karim Benzema who has had an excellent season for Real Madrid, scoring 35 goals in 51 games. Often criticized for not arising to the challenge on the big stage, Benzema will be looking to overcome his critics and continue his fine form on the national stage. The striker did have a slight back problem in the week but seems ready to start despite this concern.
France, though having their injury troubles in the week, look set to have a fully fit squad. Yann M’Vila looks ready to return after an ankle problem but is unlikely to start. Alou Diarra and Blaise Matuidi are available with Diarra likely to play.
Les Bleus will be strong favourites, having not lost to England in their last five meetings in all competitions, including a 2-1 victory in the opening game for the two teams eight years ago at Euro 2004 in Portugal.
Roy Hodgson has already named his starting eleven, with the only surprise inclusion being 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on England v France