World Champions France head to Romania’s National Arena to take on Switzerland in the Last 16 of the European Championships, and their fans will be hoping for a better performance than they’ve seen so far at the tournament.
Les Bleus limped to an opening matchday win over Germany before being denied three points by a spirited Hungary side in matchday two, and then had to share the spoils with a stubborn Portugal squad in the final gameday.
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It was enough to see them progress from the ‘Group of Death’ as winners, but they were hardly convincing – with Kylian Mbappe struggling to make his mark and a, once formidable, defence looking rather vulnerable.
Now Didier Deschamps must plan for this game whilst in the midst of an injury crisis. Ousmane Dembele has already been sent home from the tournament, while left-back Lucas Digne saw his end abruptly after just seven minutes against Portugal. He had come on at half-time for Lucas Hernandez, who is also nursing a knee injury and remains questionable for this tie.
Adrien Rabiot, Thomas Lemar, Jules Kounde and Marcus Thuram are also carrying knocks, which has given their gaffer serious selection headache ahead of this clash.
Injuries to both left-backs, and a knock for Rabiot who deputised there for half an hour against A Selecao, means we could see a European Championship debut for Lyon right-back Leo Dubois – though rumours among French media outlets suggest there could be a switch to 3-5-2 on the horizon, which would see walking liability Clement Lenglet start in defence alongside Presnel Kimpembe and Raphael Varane.
Switzerland, on the other hand, come into the game with no injury concerns after right-centre-back Nico Elvedi recovered from a foot problem.
Die Nati will be buoyed by a resounding victory over Group A whipping boys Turkey in Baku, in which acting left-wing-back Steven Zuber became only the third player ever to assist three goals in a single European Championship game.
It was a game in which Swiss playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri came alight, notching a brace to etch his name into their history books, and captain Granit Xhaka took control of the midfield to stifle the Turkish playmakers.
This is, of course, a much bigger test though, and Vladimir Petkovic’s side will need to be much better than they were in their 3-0 defeat to Group A winners Italy if they want to progress beyond the Last 16 at a major tournament for the first time since hosting the World Cup in 1954.
France v Switzerland: The Man in the Middle
Entrusted to oversee this tussle is Argentinian official Fernando Rapallini. The usually card happy referee has been rather muted at the tournament so far, handing out just five bookings in two games.
There were only 36 fouls across that pair of games though, which suggests Rapallini was holding back a little in the group stages, though it didn’t stop him awarding a pair of penalties when he oversaw Ukraine v North Macedonia.
Excluding those two games, he’s given 66 bookings and eight red cards in 13 games already this season, averaging 5.08 yellows and 0.62 sending offs a game.
That’s not just because it’s a small sample size either, in 32 games last season he averaged 6.09 bookings and an outrageous 0.75 reds per game.
Fun fact: Rapallini once gave EIGHT straight red cards out in a ‘Grenal Derby’ between Brazilian sides Gremio and Internacional.
The France v Switzerland Bets
I’ve been going over this game in my head for a couple of days and I just can’t decide how I feel about it. Traditionally, Switzerland fold against this sort of opposition and at this stage of the competition, but France haven’t looked as good as many expected them to.
I expect Les Bleus will qualify but it could be closer than the odds suggest, so France to win by exactly one goal could be worth a nibble at 5/2 with bet365. Switzerland’s five pre-tournament losses since October 2019 were all by a single goal, while five of France’s last eight competitive wins have been too.
Deschamps’ side are usually pragmatic in approach, and one-goal victories over Portugal, Croatia, Sweden, Bosnia, and Germany should give this bet a chance.
My main play for this clash, however, is Over 3.5 Total Offsides and France Over 12.5 Free Kicks at evs as a bet365 BetBuilder.
These two sides rank 5th and 6th for offsides at the Euros so far with 15 between them, whilst their opponents have been caught out five times. Stretching back to the start of the 2020 season, Die Nati’s 10 competitive games have seen 46 offsides (4.6 per game), with France’s 12 competitive fixtures have involved 50 offsides (4.2 per game)
As far as free-kicks are concerned, France have been awarded 13 or more in nine of those 12 games – including all three at the Euros – whilst Switzerland have conceded 13 or more in eight of their 10 games – including all three at the Euros.
I also fancy Antoine Griezmann to score at an intriguing 5/2. Le Petit Prince comes alive in the knockout stages at major tournaments, as he has demonstrated at the last two. At Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, he came out of the Group Stages with a single goal and finished the tournament with six and four respectively. He’s scored in six of the eight knockout games he’s played in that time period, contributing eight goals and four assists for his nation.
That brings me on to my final play, which is Paul Pogba to be Man of the Match at 8/1 with bet365. The influential midfielder has been at his sensational best for his country at the tournament so far, utilising the freedom N’Golo Kante affords him to drive his nation forwards. He’s been arguably their best player, winning this award once already, and this is a really nice price for him to do it again.