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France open Euro 2016 on a mission to lift national gloom

AFP , Friday 10 Jun 2016
Didier Deschamps
France coach Didier Deschamps oversees a training session at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on June 9, 2016 (Photo: AFP)
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Didier Deschamps' exciting France team start the Euro 2016 finals against Romania on Friday with the country grappling strike chaos but among the favourites to win the trophy.

Under a state of emergency since the November 13 Paris attacks and with the government scrambling to end the disruption of 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 a 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 which kicks off at the Stade de France at 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 attempts by Deschamps and France captain Hugo Lloris to dampen expectations, Romania coach Anghel Iordanescu put France among the front-runners.

"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 -

The French government vowed Friday to get tough with train drivers and refuse collectors to ensure that the tournament is not disrupted by strikes.

President Francois Hollande promised to take "all necessary measures" to keep the country moving while Transport Minister Alain Vidalies warned that striking rail workers might be ordered back to work to ensure millions of visitors can get to matches around the country.

"If we have to issue orders tomorrow (for trains to be driven), we will do so," Vidalies said.

Collections finally began of household rubbish that has piled up in the streets of Paris due to union blockades of incineration plants.

"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.

But local chief organiser Jacques Lambert said the atmosphere was "already spoiled".

"The image that is being given is not the one we wanted," he admitted.

The huge security operation focused on the tournament passed its first test on Thursday in a concert headlined by superstar DJ David Guetta in the Paris fan zone attended by 90,000 fans.

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.

In an indication of why the match has been designated high risk by French authorities, around 250 England fans clashed with police outside a bar in Marseille on Thursday night.

Police used teargas to break up the disturbances.

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.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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