As I explained a few days ago, German football is on the up. They have strong club teams, they have a generation of talent coming through and, more frightening than this, they compete strongly in every single tournament they enter. British soccer fans have a well known phrase they use whenever the favorites for a major tournament are discussed: “Don’t write off the Germans.”
With talented young midfielders like Mesut Özil claiming this is Germany’s year, and then standing in front of like minded attackers like Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and Mario Gotze, I believe him.
Furthermore, the thing is that they do not have much time to prove themselves. They are in a group with traditional rivals the Netherlands, powerful side Portugal and stuffy workers Denmark. If they can negotiate those fixtures, then there is no one in this competition they can fear. They have the talent to break down Denmark, the calculation to out-manoeuvre Portugal and the steel to repel Holland. They have everything, and unlike Spain, arguably, they do not rest with it. They are a side always moving and working. They are second favourites in the bookies eyes, behind the Spaniards, but I am convinced they will win it.
Eric Imhof: France: Great Country, or the Greatest Country?
On November 6th, 1792, a commission was convened to discuss the possibility of a trial for the abdicated King Louis XVI. A week later, as debates raged on, a searing indictment was laid down on the monarchy itself, in what Simon Schama has described as “the most famous maiden speech of the French Revolution”—a speech by orator Louis-Antoine Saint-Just, an acolyte of Robespierre, in which the recalcitrant resistance of authority embodied in the revolution was put succinctly: “One cannot reign innocently.”
May the same verbal arrow be slung at the current “kings” of European football (Germany, Spain, and The Netherlands) by yet another improbable group of French challengers. And just as the Jacobins had to kill both earthly and heavenly ruler (as Schama explains their perspective: “A king had to die so a republic could live. It was as simple as that.”), France will have to make heads figuratively roll in order to wrest the trophy from the grip of the current football aristocracy.
I think the French are up to the challenge. They should easily handle the hapless English in the first match, and if they can put up strong performances against Sweden and the Ukraine they should be poised as sleepers in the following stage, even against Spain and especially against Italy. After their World Cup collapse they have virtually no pressure from great expectations; the only direction for the French is up. They’ve recently beat Germany on German soil, and should be back to solid form by the summer.
Alan Dymock: Rebuttal
The French, it must be said, suffer because of their mercurial indifference. Their last coach, Raymond Domenech, selected teams using astrology. This man was allowed to reign over more than one major tournament. Now the incumbent coach, Laurent Blanc, has made no secret of his desire to move back into club coaching.
I do have incredibly fond memories of France at their best in 1998 (the World Cup I will always think of as ‘my World Cup’. There is always one WC that the individual cherishes because they were the times they remembered most fondly). However, I also have memories of that side losing embarrassingly in following WCs and they can fall into in-fighting.
I think Eric is right: France would have to wrest the title from other teams. Some of their players are capable, and some attackers like Karim Benzema and Kevin Gameiro can sniff out a goal, but they lack consistency.
Germany? You could set a watch by them.
France are maybe sexier, but the Germans can get you there and peak at the right time. That maybe came out filthier than I truly intended, but nonetheless it must be said that when it is a question of winning, Germany could come out on top in a battle with Spain, while France—while fully capable of unexpected beauty—would be far more likely to implode and fall out with each other.
Eric Imhof: Rebuttal
I don’t have any doubts that the Germans will be a force to reckon with, as they always are in these tournaments. They have the discipline and the talent to give any challenger fits. They have the creativity to break teams’ spirits with flurries of goals. They can dominate in possession or lull teams into a false sense of security only to counter with an ease befitting youth kicking the ball around the school-yard. They have the cooperation and communication to keep clean sheets, even against offensive powerhouses.
And yet, I just can’t kick the suspicion that France has such powerhouses right where it wants them. Following the World Cup debacle (the LA Times cheekily called it a “surrender”) and its lingering aftermath, many have written France off, especially considering Spain’s meteoric rise in popularity and the perennial fustian about England magically winning this campaign or that. I think the French will surprise England in the first game (give them their usual rude awakening, rather) and ride that momentum deep into the tournament.
Soccer is a game of split seconds, as we all know, and once France emerges from their group (which they will), there’s no telling what can happen. With all eyes on Germany, Spain, Holland, and (for some reason) England, France could turn some heads—or subject them to the guillotine, figuratively speaking. Viva la revolución.