Didier Deschamps’ exciting France team start the Euro 2016 finals against Romania on Friday with the country grappling with 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.