Paris (AFP) – Didier Deschamps’ France start the European Championship finals against Romania on Friday with the country plunged into strike chaos but among favourites to win the trophy.
Under a state of emergency since the November 13 Paris attacks and with strikes threatening rail travel and garbage collection, the nation is counting on the team to repeat the feats of the French sides that won Euro 84 and the 1998 World Cup on home soil.
World Cup holders Germany, defending champions Spain and England’s wealthy young stars are all out to block Les Bleus however.
French coach Deschamps lifted the World Cup as captain 18 years ago and has assembled an exciting, young attacking side including Paul Pogba one of Europe’s most wanted players.
“If you want to go far in the competition clearly you need to have great attacking potential,” said Deschamps ahead of the Group A game at Stade de France from 1900 GMT.
“I picked these players. I know their qualities, there are players with different characteristics, we’ve been able to score a lot of goals and create a lot of problems for the opponents.”
Despite Deschamps and France captain Hugo Lloris’s attempts to dampen expectations, Romania coach Anghel Iordanescu put France out with the frontrunners.
“I think France have some terrifically talented players, all with top sides in the Champions League and it is a side worth hundreds of millions of Euros,” said Iordanescu.
“Given the ability of their players I think France are one of the favourites for this tournament.”
– Strikes and security worries –
France’s President Francois Hollande to take “all necessary measures” to keep the country moving.
A nine day train strike and action by garbage workers have overshadowed the buildup to the month-long festival of football.
Bags of household rubbish piled up in the streets of Paris as union blockades of incineration plants halted collections.
“I am a spectator too, I hope it won’t spoil the party because in a competition like this, on French soil, I think we have to show a great image of our country,” said Lloris.
A concert headlined by superstar DJ David Guetta attended by 90,000 fans posed the security forces their first major challenge on the eve of the tournament.
About 90,000 police and private guards will be mobilised to provide security at the 10 stadiums seven months after the Paris attacks.
Suicide bombers unsuccessfully tried to enter the Stade de France, which will host the opening game and the final, in one of the attacks.
– Ronaldo touches down –
The biggest star on show at the tournament, three-time World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, touched down in France on Thursday as Portugal became the final team to arrive.
Fresh from scoring the winning penalty as Real Madrid won the Champions League two weeks ago, Ronaldo dispelled doubts over his fitness with two goals in a 45-minute cameo as the Portuguese thrashed Estonia 7-0 in their final warm-up friendly on Wednesday.
After France and Romania open proceedings, the newly expanded 24-team tournament kicks into gear with six games on a star-studded weekend.
England’s prolific new strike partnership of Premier League top-scorer Harry Kane and Leicester City title winning hero Jamie Vardy will hope to outgun Russia in Marseille on Saturday.
The match has been designated high risk by French authorities.
Also in England’s group Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale will headline Wales’ opener in their first appearance in a major championship since the 1958 World Cup.
The play Slovakia, also making their first appearance at the finals.
On Sunday, Germany open their campaign against Ukraine, and Bayern Munich’s Polish striker Robert Lewandowski will aim to spoil Northern Ireland’s Euros debut.
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