When describing France in terms of its national soccer team, two words are constantly used in tandem:
Talented and temperamental.
Few countries possess the other-worldly talent of Les Bleus, something which has been commonplace for more than a generation dating back to winning the 1998 World Cup on their home soil and the most recent edition in 2018. Equally few teams have had a mercurial meltdown as famous as the 2010 squad that staged a player revolt against coach Raymond Domenech in South Africa.
Since Didier Deschamps — a midfielder on that 1998 team — has been manager, though, the temperamental has given way to tenaciousness meshing with that talent. Deschamps became the third person to win the World Cup as player and manager three years ago, guiding France to the Jules Rimet trophy in Russia and earning a second star.
His team enters the pan-continental European Championship — delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and being played across 11 countries starting Friday — as a clear favorite. History is also in the offering for Deschamps, who can become the first person to win both the World Cup and European Championship as a player and a manager, having won the European title in 2000 when Les Bleus became the first team to simultaneously hold the World Cup and Euro titles.
France’s road to Wembley Stadium in London, however, will not be a gilded path. Les Bleus are in a difficult group, and there are other squads with enough elite talent who can knock off Deschamps’ side if in the mood. Here’s a look at the field and some of the wagering options available:
— Equipe de France ⭐⭐ (@equipedefrance) May 19, 2021
Kylian Mbappe — who won the FIFA World Cup Best Young Player Award at age 19 in 2018 and can be grabbed at +1000 at the Kambi-powered books of DraftKings, BetRivers, Unibet, and Barstool Sportsbook for the top scorer at the Euros — is the linchpin of a dynamic offense. He is featured in a potent attack that includes Antoine Greizmann and the surprising return of lead striker Karim Benzema.
Benzema, who is back with Les Bleus for the first time since 2015, will serve in the target forward role Olivier Giroud performed in 2018. The depth at Deschamps’ disposal is staggering, but the one player who could prove irreplaceable is midfielder N’Golo Kante. Seemingly omnipresent between the boxes, Kante is coming off a Man of the Match performance in helping Chelsea win the UEFA Champions League title less than two weeks ago.
France has been put in the “Group of Death” for this tournament, with 2016 champion Portugal, perennial power Germany, and Hungary all in Group F. But for those confident in Les Bleus, there are opportunities for favorable wagers. For example, FanDuel is offering them +160 to finish atop the group, with DraftKings just off that at +148.
England: The only other country aside from France listed as a favorite at any sportsbook to win the Euros — +470 at FanDuel and ranging as high as +550 elsewhere — England also boasts a deep squad that would get the benefit of home-pitch advantage should it reach the semifinals.
But with every international tournament for the Three Lions comes the ratcheted-up pressure from their fan base to win their first title since the 1966 World Cup — also achieved on home soil. Reaching the World Cup semifinals three years ago was an important marker for Gareth Southgate’s side, a run that included a nervy quarterfinal win over Colombia on penalties that may have ended England’s hoodoo regarding spot kicks once and for all.
Lead striker Harry Kane is the odds-on favorite to win the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer — the England and Tottenham Hotspur talisman is a +470 option at FanDuel and a joint-first option with Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku at BetMGM (+600) and the Kambi-powered books (+650). Kane, who likely will also be taking the team’s penalties, also offers decent value for being England’s top goal-scorer in the tournament. BetMGM has the best play in this category at -125, considering Raheem Sterling is a distant second option at +700.
Belgium: The “Golden Generation” of the Red Devils are nearing the end of their high-quality run that includes a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup, but the year’s delay in playing this tournament could prove the difference in their contending to win the title (available at +750 at Kambi books) and simply being a solid choice to reach the semifinals — BetMGM currently having the best offering for a final four spot at +150.
Roberto Martinez’s team also has a wealth of attacking talent, with the aforementioned Lukaku entering this tournament in outstanding form after helping Inter Milan win the Serie A title in Italy. He scored 24 goals, trailing only Cristiano Ronaldo, and has 60 goals in 93 international appearances for Belgium. Lukaku is also an intriguing +175 option at BetMGM as the top tournament scorer for anyone who plays club soccer in Italy, rating higher than Ronaldo (+250).
But Belgium’s hopes for a title mostly ride on the availability of midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, whose return date is a question mark after suffering a broken nose and fractured eye socket in Manchester City’s loss to Chelsea in the Champions League final from a collision with Chelsea and Germany defender Antonio Rudiger. De Bruyne’s play-making ability is widely respected at sportsbooks offering a market for most assists for the tournament — he is the top option to finish atop the category at +1100 on those powered by the Kambi platform, despite his uncertain status.
— Portugal (@selecaoportugal) May 20, 2021
Since only eight teams get eliminated in group play, powerhouse teams are afforded a greater margin of error with knockout round spots awarded to four of the six third-place group finishers. Whether any of those teams — or even group runners-up — can string together two victories to claim a semifinal berth is up for debate, but there are some teams worth considering.
Portugal: Underestimate Ronaldo and the defending continental champion at your own risk. Portugal is a +900 option to repeat as Euro champion, but grabbing it at +225 (BetMGM) or +220 (Kambi) to reach the semis is a worthwhile flyer. It is a pick with some risk, though, as a second-place Group F finish could potentially pit A Selecao versus England in the round of 16.
The 36-year-old Ronaldo, who has 103 goals in 174 international appearances, won the Silver Boot in 2016 as the Euro’s second-highest scorer and paced Serie A with 29 goals in 33 matches for Juventus this past season. He is also a +1400 option at FanDuel and BetMGM as the top scorer for the tournament.
Portugal, though, is far from a one-man team as Ronaldo is backed by Manchester City’s Bernando Silva and Manchester United play-maker Bruno Fernandes in attack. The defense is anchored by veteran center back Pepe and keeper Rui Patricio.
Italy: After a shocking failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy regrouped under Roberto Mancini and won all 10 of its Euro qualifiers. The Azzurri, who can be grabbed at +180 for a semifinal spot via the Kambi books, have a promising path to the last four should they win Group A as expected over Switzerland, Turkey, and Wales.
The downside is the lack of a world-class striker on one end and presence of a keeper making his international tournament debut on the other. Ciro Immobile has been good for club but not for country — he has averaged 25 goals in his last five seasons in Serie A but potted only 12 goals in 45 international appearances — and Gianluigi Donnarumma will be the first keeper between the sticks for Italy to open a major tournament not named Gianluigi Buffon since the 2002 World Cup.
Switzerland: For those considering an “outsider” to crash the semifinals, the Swiss may be the best squad suited for that task while offering a nice potential payout at +750 at BetMGM. There is also an option at FanDuel at +1200 for Switzerland to be eliminated in the semifinals for those brave enough for such a wager.
While Italy is the odds-on favorite in Group A, manager Vladimir Petrovic has coaxed knockout-round appearances from Switzerland in the two international tournaments he has overseen. Additionally, a runner-up finish in Group A is not the worst outcome in terms of a path to the semifinals considering the round of 16 opponent would likely be Denmark, Finland, or Russia.
A potential quarterfinal clash with the Netherlands would prove more difficult, but the Swiss have proven themselves resolute defensively and definitely rate at least a puncher’s chance in such a matchup. Switzerland is also a dangerous team via set pieces through right back Ricardo Rodriguez and winger Xherdan Shaqiri.
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