There it’s finished. The group stage of this second Euro with 24 teams, concluded with the two high intensity matches of Group F – and two draws, France-Portugal (2-2), and Germany-Hungary (also 2-2) – a kept a lot of the promises. The eight weakest teams (Scotland, Finland, Hungary, North Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey) will have to return home, experience made for the next time. Some would undoubtedly have deserved a better fate, like Scotland or the astonishing Hungary which held in check two of the world champions of the last decade, Germany and France.
The group F says “of death” has kept its promises
The first will therefore play in the temple of European football, at Wembley, England against an English eleven who impressed during his three group matches. Portugal, the last opponent of France in the so difficult Group F, finds itself in third place, with on its way in eighth of the Belgians who have impressed and are announced as possible winners. Finally, the French world champion inherits one of the easiest eighths, against Switzerland, a well-earned ransom for first place in the group.
As always in the big tournaments, the hardest part will start during the phase of the knockout matches, but the Blues have justified without shining by their status of first favorite. They are far from the three victories of Belgium, Italy or the Netherlands, which certainly evolved against less popular opponents. Never exceptional, sometimes confusing but always serious and diligent, they did not set anyone on fire, but kept the fire started in Russia three years ago.
Bad memories of the Euro 2016 final
All’s well that ends, therefore, for these Blues who will have trembled about sixty minutes out of the 270 they spent on the lawn in three games. And it was largely against the Portuguese, this intimate enemy beaten so often, sometimes victorious at the worst moment: of the last twelve games between France and Portugal, the French had indeed lost only once, in Stade de France, in the final of Euro 2016. This should not be forgotten, but it can be forgiven provided you do better next time, according to the formula. It’s done, at least from an accounting perspective.
Because nothing is ever easy with these Portuguese, never as sober and technical as when they have their backs to the wall. Cornered before kick-off after their correction against Germany (2-4), they were virtually eliminated after fifteen minutes of another match taking place much further west, at the Allianz Arena in Munich . Against all expectations, the Hungarians opened the scoring, triggering a thunderous rumble in the Budapest stadium, three quarters full of Hungarians (7,500 French people had made the trip).
It was then that the French boat experienced a good half hour of pitching. With defensive temperaments, the Portuguese have turned into twirling elves making the disoriented French circles dizzy. The French led well to a score, but that of the yellow cards (3-0), a sign of dismay and helplessness. For a good thirty minutes, we believed in the worst, which arrived in the form of a hazardous exit from Hugo Lloris punching the head of a Portuguese instead of the ball.
Karim Benzema and the tap theorem
Result, a yellow card (a red was possible) and a penalty transformed by the inevitable Cristiano Ronaldo. Deserved sanction, much more in any case than the same sentence imposed on the Portuguese for a dubious fault against Kylian Mbappé. Karim Benzema transformed the penalty and reopened his goal counter in blue, after a long period of scarcity.
The open tap theorem – a striker relaxed by his first goal often doubles the bet – then came true. From the start of the second period, the Madrilenian gave the advantage to the Blues on a cross shot. Here, the Benzema-goalscorer page finally turned in the right direction. From twists to twists in the two matches, the Portuguese were then virtually eliminated, then it was the turn of the Germans, and finally, this time definitely, that of the Hungarians. Sacred evening.
We knew them better inspired and authoritarian, but the French themselves no longer trembled much, even under the impact of a second penalty on a hand from Jules Koundé, the quasi-rookie of this team who does not yet seem able to debunk Benjamin Pavard from his pedestal. The Munich side, injured against Germany and disoriented against Hungary, should have regained his spirits Monday in the round of 16
Switzerland are strong opponents, but they have always done quite well for the French in competition. In the 2014 World Cup, Didier Deschamps’ men had passed them five goals, conceding only two. While waiting for this France-Portugal provided Cristiano Ronaldo, the opportunity to equal a new record, that of the number of goals scored in a national jersey (109). At 36, he still has the legs to go further.
The program for the round of 16 (June 26 – June 29)
6 p.m .: Wales – Denmark (Amsterdam).
9 p.m .: Italy – Austria, Wembley (London).
6 p.m .: Netherlands – Czech Republic (Budapest).
9 p.m .: Belgium – Portugal, (Seville).
6 p.m .: Croatia – Spain (Copenhagen).
9 p.m .: France – Switzerland (Bucharest).
6 p.m .: England – Germany, Wembley (London).
9 p.m .: Sweden – Ukraine, Hampden Park (Glasgow).