FRIDAY MORNING’S BIG STORIES
1 – FRANCE WANT TO ‘SET TONE FOR WHOLE TOURNAMENT’
It’s finally here. After months of fevered build-up to Euro 2016, as well as persistent concerns over strikes and security issues, more on that below, the actual football will kick-off when hosts France take on Group A opponents Romania in Paris at 8pm BST. For France, the wait has been particularly long, and nervous too. The team have not played a competitive game for two years while the nation as a whole is desperate for an uplifting sporting occasion to rank alongside winning the World Cup in 1998 on home turf; a moment to unify a divided country. After the suicide bombs which rocked the Stade de France back in November, France wants to reassert itself in a positive manner at the very same stadium when Euro 2016 starts.
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The stakes are high, perhaps uniquely so, for coach Didier Deschamps and his men. Wary of the effect that such expectation could have on his players, Deschamps has nevertheless called on them to set the tone for Euro 2016 as a whole from the very start: a celebration of football, a safe spectacle for fans and, Deschamps hopes, some French excellence.
“The less the occasion weighs on the players, the better. We have been preparing for 10 June for two years. It's important to be back in competition football. Our last official game was the quarter-final against Germany at the World Cup [in 2014]. The others have all been friendlies. The setting is the Stade de France – the opening game – so it is certainly special. This should set the tone for the whole tournament.”
2 – STRIKES OVERSHADOWING BUILD-UP
rubbish piles up
Image credit: Eurosport
As well as rubbish building up on the streets of Paris and Marseille due to strikes which are a response to proposed new labour laws in France, trains have also been cancelled due to industrial action over working conditions, leaving many fans trying to negotiate another way across France as they traipse between cities. Oh, and Air France pilots are taking to the picket line on Saturday. And this happened on Thursday evening too:
“I would like the Euro to be a beautiful showcase for France,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told reporters. "France is ready to host the Euro, and everyone must show responsibility and patriotism at this time." But the unions are not wasting the massive leverage they have at the tournament's start, with Europe descending on France and relying on its infrastructure, meaning strikes are part of the Euro 2016 story - for now at least.
3 – ENGLAND’S MARSEILLE CLASH SPARKS UNWANTED MEMORIES
Around 70,000 England fans are expected in Marseille for Saturday’s Group B match against Russia, with the first arrivals already taking up residence in Vieux Port and colonising local pubs and bars. It was in the same city during the 1998 World Cup that England fans were responsible for some shockingly violent scenes, clashing with Tunisia supporters and French riot police too.
There should be no easy assumption that white plastic chairs will go flying against a backdrop of water cannon spray again in 2016 - but allusions to France ’98 are inevitable, especially when songs like the one above are aired again. And there has already been some trouble overnight, according to some reports. All eyes will be on the behaviour of England supporters ahead of their match with Russia - whose own fans are not exactly shrinking violets.
"We've come over for four days, none of us have tickets but it should be a great crack," an Everton fan called Darren told Reuters. "We've read about threats from hard-core Russians but there's always stuff like that and nowadays everybody just wants to have a laugh and see the game. I've been to a few tournaments with England and I've hardly seen any trouble - there's more every Friday night outside my local kebab shop."
TODAY’S BIG MATCH
Image credit: Reuters
France v Romania: After an opening ceremony which can reliably be expected to be full of over-the-top pyrotechnics and some generic pop warbling, it will be time for Group A to get going. France are heavy odds-on favourites and, after suffering from a spate of withdrawals prior to the deadline to name their squad, are now fighting fight. Romania are not a team of stars, far from it, but they went through qualification unbeaten and will be at full strength after Florin Andone and Denis Alibec recovered from knocks. Read our full preview.
CLASH OF THE DAY
Paul Pogba v Nicolae Stanciu: The great hope of French football said this week that “I'd like to get to the level where I have everything: Vieira, Deschamps, Zidane, Ronaldinho, Henry, Ronaldo.” Stanciu has to make do with merely being called the new Gheorghe Hagi. It is a sign of the quality of both players, who will be their teams’ respective midfield inspirations, that they are mentioned in such company. Both are 23 but while Pogba has been establishing himself as arguably the most talented player in the world in his age group, Stanciu is a late starter, who only made his debut for Romania in March but has scored four goals in five games. Can he ruin the Pogba party?
ON THE GROUND
French police block the access to the Bataclan concert hall
Image credit: Eurosport
Jonathan Wilson in Paris: "I came upon the Bataclan unexpectedly. I’d realised on getting to my hotel – booked last summer, several months before the massacre that killed 89 people – that it was only a few minutes walk away and, coming back from the Stade de France on Thursday, I got off the Metro a stop early to try to find it. I was fiddling with my phone, trying to find it on a map when I realised it was right in front of me.
It’s smaller than I’d realised, which somehow makes the sense of terror all the greater
"It’s smaller than I’d realised, which somehow makes the sense of terror all the greater; those inside must have realised very quickly that there was little chance of escape. It’s still surrounded by white-painted boards and scaffolding, but other than that, and a reporter doing a piece to camera on the crossing outside, there was no sign of the terror that unfolded there last November.
"And that, really, has been the surprising aspect of the build-up to Friday’s opening game between France and Romania. I’d expected an obvious security presence, but in two days of wandering around Bastille and Pere Lachaise I’m yet to see a policeman on the street. There are sirens now and again and security getting into the media areas at both the Parc des Princes and the Stade de France is a level up from Poland and Ukraine, but its not especially different to the World Cup in Brazil. Perhaps it will be stepped up as the tournament gets under way, but for now the security operation is discreet."
Marcus Foley will be arriving in Marseille today to cover the build-up to England’s match against Russia. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat (Eurosport) as he posts pictures and videos from the southern city, which is being overtaken by England fans as we speak.
SHARING IS CARING – EURO 2016 VIRAL GEMS
Have you heard? We’ve appointed Eric Cantona as the Commissioner of Football, and he’s laid down his first ruling ahead of Euro 2016….
First there was the Harlem Shake. Then the Ice Bucket Challenge. Now apparently the latest social media sensation is the Running Man Challenge. Why are we bothering you with this inane information? Because last night, from the England team hotel, Eric Dier posted this video of himself and John Stones.
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