By Mikey Smokes
Ahh yes, welcome to France. What better way to usher in the 2016 Euros than with a backdrop of terror concerns, Strike action and even a minor sex scandal. All typical and fears of terror aside almost normal for a sporting nation that holds its collective breath annually for a pharmaceutical trial masquerading as a bike race. Naturally the locals are excited and nervous for reasons both on and off the pitch. The national team hailed by politicians when it has suited them as representative of the Republics multinationalism and pilloried at times by the public as mercenaries with a greater interest in lining their pockets has since the days of Zidane tread water, with no major trophies or success.
Away from the pitch the nation struggles with economic reform, the workers and unions blocking motorways and petrol stations, parts of Calais have become a tented city for refugees and of course there’s those pesky terrorists who turned the last international at Stade de France into a stadium slumber party for the French and German teams.
The team itself and coach Didier Dechamp appear to have overcome the Benzema Valbuena sextape blackmail scandal with minimal fallout. Despite concerns about out and out goal scoring ability in the likes of Olivier Giroud, Dechamp has left Benzema out of the squad, a popular decision amongst the “I’m not racist but…” crowd. The diminutive Valbuena was also ommited but thats barely been a talking point with the squads depth in midfield.
In Paul Pogba France possess potentially the next Zidane, a sublime player who manipulates space and appears able to do things no one else is capable of. Yet to reach the height of his powers Pogbas influence could be huge in this tournament and going forward in world football. Also watchout for his hairstyles, I guess when you’re that good you can wear a small chilly bin that plugs into your car dashboard on your head if you want. One to watch who you may not even notice is N’Golo Kante, the “new Claude Makelele” a pocket battleship who was an integral cog in Leicester City’s Premiership triumph, his recent emergence provides the likes of Pogba the ball, space and time to do the flashy stuff.
Anthony Martial was one of the few highlights in a terrible season for the evil empire that is Manchester United and much is expected of him along with set piece specialist Dimitri Payet. Speed kills and comes in the form of Antoine Griezmann who despite an ugly penalty miss in the Champions League final had another good season at Athletico Madrid. He and Martial look like nice sneaky options for tournament golden boot.
France shouldn’t have trouble scoring goals but there is concern about them keeping them out with a combination of old and just wobbly defenders in Patrice “Fuck Domenech I’m not getting off the bus” Evra, Bacary Sagna, Mangala, Laurent Koscielny and company. Time and time again in sport at the highest level and particularly football we see good teams blunted by quality defence and this isn’t a strength of this particular squad. They will need some luck but who other than the All Blacks doesn’t right? (Merci Monsier Joubert).
Many see this as France’s best opportunity to win and the home advantage shouldn’t be underestimated they are rightfully favourites, just edging the usual suspects Spain and Germany . The Spanish for whatever reason (security I assume) will set up camp on sleepy Isle de Re, two hundred kilometres away from Bordeaux where they play some pool games. Toulouse where they also play is even farther away (500kms at a guess minimum). They’ve looked older and slower recently, they prospered with a style high on skill requirement and as Andres Iniesta gets on some of the magic has faded.
The Germans well we’ve seen how their form has dipped since the World Cup glory, recently suffering losses to Slovakia and Ireland. Their most recent memory of France was anything but pleasant, sleeping on mattresses under the stadium after a match that was played in a city under attack by Islamic fundamentalists many of whom slipped across the border to…
Belgium who have a deep squad and the talent to win the tournament. Popular opinion though is that coach Marc Wilmots is a dummy, and that if Eden Hazard and Kevin DeBruyne get Belgium the title it’s in spite of him. Needless to say I hope for the sake of my adopted countrymen Belgium get knocked out early, Belgians claiming to be inventors of the French fry was insult enough without contemplating them coming here and stealing the trophy.
The English have an interesting mix of youth and experience. Roy Hodgson who often times looks like an old man sitting at bus stop suffering Alzheimer’s will probably use Old Wayne Rooney in a playmaking role (good luck with that), ‘Arry Kane and Jamie Vardy up front and that’s about the extent of my interest in England aside from seeing young Marcus Rashford play.
That pretty much rounds out the sides who can win the tournament. Portugal will titilate at times but Ronaldo can’t, as much as he’d love to do it all by his handsome self. He is though in the running for both top goal scorer and the Greg Louganis award for best dive. Croatia are a nice dark horse, Luka Modric and Rakitic in midfield and Mandzudic up front could surprise. A nice “roughie” in Aussie parlance but not really recommended unless you have a sponsored Sportsbet account with a lazy $75k to splurge.
Italy if you were to sum them up with a thumbnail pic are Giorgio Chiellini. Old. Carrado Soprano wandering around Jersey in a bathrobe. Rightfully priced out beyond England in most betting markets the Italians are always slept on in major tournaments but on this occasion it’s with good reason.
Away from all of that though the country is fizzing with anticipation. The FIFA merchandise machine is in overdrive, most cities and even small towns like ours have adopted teams. Ours is Spain and their flag flies along side that of FIFA at most of the roundabouts and public places, shops have the flag and the word “Bienvenido” in their windows. My wife asked me if Columbian popstar Shakira (never heard of her honest) will be coming because she’s so and so’s wife. My kids are looking forward to seeing some of the best footballers in the world, of a generation training on a shitty facility that resembles something at a Hamilton primary school (that’s really just me telling them what they should be looking forward to). There is also concern though, mostly regarding the terrorist threat and security has been stepped up well before the teams arrive. For us on an island connected by a bridge not much has changed aside from the presence of the Douane (Border police/customs). No doubt things will change when the cavalcade of Spanish buses and support vehicles cross the bridge but for now it’s all protests, petanque and pastis.
So that’s pretty much all you need to know about Euro2016 in France, if you’re coming bring your own gas.
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