France can be one of the more difficult major football nations to like. Their capacity for ego-driven collapse and self-destruction rarely endears them to neutral fans – and their build-up to a Euro 2016 tournament on home soil has seen much of the same.
Key ringleaders of the weird sex tape scandal that has dominated Les Bleus’ past few months, Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena, have been excluded from the squad, but the infighting remains.
Star man Antoine Griezmann has had to plead with fans to stop booing Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud, which is a ridiculous situation to be in just days before a major international tournament.
It’s a shame, because France should be the choice of every neutral watching the tournament. Major competitions are so much better when the host nation really captures the imagination.
Some of the best memories of international tournaments involve a host nation really coming to the fore. England’s performance at Euro 96, Paul Gascoigne and the dentist’s chair, inspired a whole generation of new fans to fall in love with the game.
— Football FanCast (@FootballFanCast) June 9, 2016
Recent tournaments have been missing this magic, with the last two European Championships having two lots of joint-hosts, none of whom made any real impact on the tournament.
The same can be said of South Africa at the World Cup in 2010, whilst Brazil’s run to the semi-finals two years ago was the least that was expected of them and ended in disastrous style.
The last host nation to set a tournament alight was in 2002, when South Korea made it all the way to the semi-final of the World Cup thanks to the energy and drive of an entire nation and, well, quite a lot of fortunate refereeing decisions.
As one of the favourites for the tournament, France won’t be able to replicate that underdog spirit – but they could win a third major tournament on home soil.
Their victory in 1998 managed to unite a nation in a way that it hasn’t been since and turned the likes of Thierry Henry into genuine world superstars, something that could be in store for the likes of Griezmann and Anthony Martial if they can repeat their heroics this summer, whilst Paul Pogba’s star could go stratospheric.
Paul Pogba shows off his skills in France training. 🇫🇷https://t.co/RzhvtPfp6k
— Footy (@Footy) June 9, 2016
We all have our own nations to support this summer, but it can only be good for the tournament if France live up to their billing and explode into the latter stages with one of the most exciting attacking line-ups around.
After two successive attempts at two countries hosting in unison and a weird plan to hold the tournament across the continent in 2020, this is the first opportunity for a host nation to win our hearts for some time – and could be the last for another decade.
Over to you, Les Bleus, don’t let us down.