A good start imperative to cheer up France

Paris:France kicks off its campaign against Romania on Friday with the host nation desperate for a ray of sunshine after being hit by strikes, floods and scandals in the build-up.

The French team exercises during a training session at the Stade de France, Saint-Denis, north of Paris, France on Thursday.

A state of emergency is also still in force after last November’s Islamist attacks killed 130 people in Paris at several sites including the Stade de France, the venue for Friday’s opening game.

Benzema ruckus

As if that were not enough, France’s preparations have been hampered by a string of injuries and a scandal involving striker Karim Benzema, who said last week that he was denied a chance to play in the tournament finals because of his Algerian origins.

Benzema was suspended indefinitely by the French federation (FFF) last December because of his involvement in an alleged blackmail scandal. The FFF upheld the ban in April, effectively ruling the striker out of the tournament.

His accusation of racism was widely denied, with promising forward Kingsley Coman calling it “nonsense”.

His comments did, however, deepen a row about alleged racism in a national team once hailed as a model for ethnic integration after it lifted the World Cup on home soil in 1998.

Current coach Didier Deschamps captained France to that success, but 18 years later he faces a very different challenge.

It seems a formality that France will survive a group, arguably the weakest in the competition, that also features Albania and Switzerland.

“I trust my players,” said Deschamps. “The first game is not decisive but it is important because it sets the tone for the whole tournament.”

Romania has struggled in front of goal, but its resolute defence could make it a difficult side to break down.

The host, by contrast, has plenty of attacking talent with Coman, Antoine Griezmann and in-form Olivier Giroud, who struck twice in a 3-0 win over Scotland in the final warm-up game.

Defensive woes

Deschamps’ worries are in defence after centre back Raphael Varane and holding midfielder Lassana Diarra had to pull out with injuries.

Laurent Koscielny and Adil Rami, who are likely to be paired in central defence against Romania, have rarely played together and showed signs of nerves when they did.

Once a defensively-minded outfit, Les Bleus will have to focus on looking for goals. If they discover their scoring touch, France could soon be in party mood again.