France’s captain, Hugo Lloris, has confessed his side’s opening match against Romania will signal the start of the biggest month of their lives, while seeking to downplay their status as favourites.
France head coach Didier Deschamps during training
The Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper, who enters Euro 2016 following another fine season for his club, felt adrenaline levels beginning to rise as they left their training camp for the final time before the match at the Stade de France on Friday. “I won’t hide the fact this morning we felt something different because we left Clairefontaine and moved towards the Stade de France and were able to come across some fans as we checked into the team hotel,” he said. “There was a gradual rise in our adrenaline levels. We can’t wait for the opening match.”
As their coach, the 1998 World Cup-winning captain Didier Deschamps, vowed to play with a “foot on the accelerator”, Lloris said it was important to get off to a winning start to build momentum among their supporters.
“We need to be very strong from a mental perspective. If we put in the energy levels on the pitch everything else will follow,” he said, articulating a responsibility to get the crowd going. “You can make mistakes but as long as you have the right mindset, the desire to win challenges and a competitive spirit, if we harness that we can achieve great things. The French public expect a real show but they’ll be even further behind us if they see the French side winning football matches.
But Lloris denied that they were favourites, despite bookmakers installing them as such ahead of Germany and Spain. Despite his protestations, the French media remain unmoved, however. The banner headline on Thursday’s L’Equipe blared: “Favouris”.
“We don’t feel like favourites at all,” Lloris added. “We haven’t done anything, we haven’t proved anything so far if we compare ourselves to Germany and Spain – the reigning world and European champions. We are the hosts, we need to make the most of that to give us added strength. The fact we’re playing at home where we’ve won nine of our last 10 matches gives us a certain confidence.”
In advance of a tournament towards which France have been building for two years and which, if anything, has taken on greater significance in that time, much has been made of the contrast between their swashbuckling, youthful brio going forward and their less than solid defence. “I think I have a competitive side with exciting attacking potential,” Deschamps said. “Clearly you need to strike the right balance and defend well. So throughout our training sessions and preparation matches we focused on having an effective defensive block.”
France are likely to start with a front three of Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet in front of Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba, while much will rest on Leicester’s N’Golo Kanté to shield the defence.
Deschamps preferred to focus on that attacking threat, outlining the difference between the style of his France team and the possession-based football that has brought success to Spain.
“It comes back to the scenario and the tempo,” he said. “I’d rather play balls that cut through: forward passes. I don’t have a team that will keep the ball and wear down the opposition. Our strength lies with putting our foot down on the accelerator rather than working for a long period of time.” Both coach and captain were keen to play down their strengths and talk up Romania’s, while also making it clear they knew they are expected to not only win but to do so in style.
And as much as parallels will inevitably be drawn with the achievements of Deschamps and the 1998 team, he was keen to play down the comparison. “I’m not really looking back. It was so long ago,” he said. “I wasn’t in the same uniform, I wasn’t in the same role. My staff and I have done everything in our power to come into the opening match in the right frame of mind. Often it comes down to small margins but we can’t wait for the competition to begin.”
It was perhaps telling that Deschamps, so eloquent in the wake of the terror attacks on Paris in November, was not asked about the wider significance of returning to the Stade de France for the tournament curtain-raiser. There seems instead an unspoken collective desire to focus on the football.
To that end Deschamps spoke of the need for all of his players to manage their emotions on the eve of the biggest tournament of their lives. “Each player experiences these matches in a different fashion,” he said. “You must not focus too early or play the game before it begins. You need to keep some energy and have some confidence. You need to have some butterflies because we haven’t achieved anything yet. We need to get out there and do it, without looking at any permutations, without any pressure, without feeling fragile.”
This article was written by Owen Gibson in Paris, for The Guardian on Thursday 9th June 2016 21.50 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010