England are the favourites to win Euro 2020. They were even the favourites to win it in 2020. Or so the bookmakers, who are famously rarely wrong, have insisted for over a year. It may reflect the generation of talent that is so large that there will not be room in Gareth Southgate’s finals squad for all of Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Harvey Barnes, James Maddison, Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho. Maybe it is simply Anglobiased betting.
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Or perhaps it is a case of overestimating how much advantage home advantage actually provides, because no hosts have won the European Championships since France in 1984. Whichever, undue pressure may be conferred when there are more convincing candidates. Portugal won Euro 2016 and have since gained Joao Felix, Bruno Fernandes and Ruben Dias, plus Bernardo Silva, absent due to injury five years ago. Spain, Italy, Germany, Holland and Croatia all have a chance. Belgium have spent an extended spell ranked first in the world.
But most obviously, there is France. Frankly, it is surprise the French are not favourites for everything: Euro 2020, the 2022 World Cup, perhaps even Euro 2024. They have not yet assumed the status of the team of their era, as the side of two decades ago did, as Spain’s passers did, but that may reflect the way some recognition has eluded them. The 2018 World Cup winners were denied victory in the Euro 2016 final by a combination of a man-of-the-match display from Rui Patricio and the rarity of an Eder goal. It was far from a vintage tournament, but France were the closest thing to an outstanding team.
They improved two years later, buoyed by the emergence of a generational talent in Kylian Mbappe, and should not be in decline now. Results scarcely suggest so – France may have had a freak friendly defeat to Finland last year but they have only lost three of 36 games – and neither do the personnel.
Only Blaise Matuidi and Samuel Umtiti of the World Cup final starters are no longer in the squad and the centre-back has been displaced from the Barcelona team by a fellow Frenchman, Clement Lenglet. Hugo Lloris may be slightly past his best but another 34-year-old, Olivier Giroud, remains a timeless paradox: a substitute at club level but integral to an attack where he acts as a facilitator to Antoine Griezmann and Mbappe. In those two, plus Paul Pogba, France may possess three genuinely world-class progressive players, which few others do, but they are allied with one of the game’s outstanding defensive midfielders, in N’Golo Kante, and centre-backs, in Raphael Varane. Didier Deschamps’ defensive resources are such that Wesley Fofana is not even guaranteed a place in their Under-21 team. Aymeric Laporte remains uncapped. Dayot Upamecano, the most coveted young centre-back in the world, might not be in the final squad: three-quarters of Bayern Munich’s back four next season may be French: Lucas Hernandez, Benjamin Pavard and Upamecano.
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It can be simplistic to judge a national team on the basis of the clubs their players represent, but in this instance, it provides a guide. Deschamps’ current group includes three players each from Bayern, Chelsea and Tottenham, two apiece from Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain and one apiece from Atletico Madrid and Juventus. Four of the seven most expensive players ever are French. No one else has as much pedigree.
The French bench could be a thing of wonder: Thomas Lemar, Ousmane Dembele, Kingsley Coman, Anthony Martial, Adrien Rabiot, perhaps the prodigy Eduardo Camavinga. It is an unrivalled assortment of players.
Perhaps the relative familiarity of France, the lack of a novelty factor, has led them to be overlooked in the search for something different. Maybe it reflects the way Didier Deschamps feels underestimated, even though few of the world’s finest managers work in the international arena. Or possibly it is because history shows that relatively few teams win hold both the global and continental titles at the same time. But France could join a small group; arguably they should. They must enter Euro 2020 as its likeliest winners.
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