Good evening and welcome to our live blog of France vs Switzerland, in the last 16 stage of the Euros. We will have all the build up ahead of the 8pm kick off and the team news. In the meantime, here’s my colleague Luke Edwards to set the scene…
Before a ball had been kicked at this European Championships we knew who the favourites to win it were and nothing that has happened since has done anything to dent confidence in France.
They finished top of by far the toughest group, beating Germany before securing the draws against Portugal and Hungary which enabled Didier Deschamps’ side to qualify for the round of 16 top, setting up tonight’s first knockout test against Switzerland.
Other sides, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, may have qualified with maximum points, but France did so leaving plenty in reserve.
Whenever they were put under pressure, most notably by Portugal in their final group game, where they fell behind twice, the French got back into it with the sort of effortless upping of performance levels, led by the Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and Juventus’ Adrien Rabiot, that looked ominous for everyone else.
When you also factor in that arguably their best player, Paris Saint Germain’s Kylian Mbappe has not scored a goal yet, it is impossible to escape the idea so much more can come from Les Blues starting against the Swiss.
The reigning world champions have not been at their best – more functionable than flair – but in the Germany game, in particular, they delivered a performance that was simply too good for one of the other major nations to handle.
It all points towards the completion of an enthralling test, a challenge to replicate the achievements of the last great French side which won the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championships two years later. Expectations are so high that anything less than a victory in the final at Wembley on July 11th will be perceived as a failure.
It is an expectation this generation are used to playing with. Just as they are comfortable with the comparison with those that conquered Europe and the rest of the world before them. They are not burdened by the weight of history, they seem to be inspired by it.
There was a time when we could allude to fragility in France. They have had talented teams before and failed, but when you have already won the World Cup, why would any of the players feel the strain of trying to win the Euros too?
There was pressure in the group stage and they came through with the air of an athlete qualifying from the heats – doing enough to get over the line ahead of their rivals but doing so with plenty left in reserve.
The concern for the rest of those with genuine title winning credentials – including England of course – is that you feel France could easily move through the gears as we enter the business end of the tournament.
Should he add a European Championship winning medal to the World Cup one he helped inspire France to three years ago, Pogba’s status as one of the world’s best will be assured in silverware.
Yet, at club level, he remains a difficult problem to work out. For Manchester United, there have always been flashes of brilliance, but also far too many mediocre displays and the criticism that comes with it.
“For me, it’s only the French Pogba that matters,”said Deschamps when asked about the difference between the player in blue compared to red.
“I don’t like talking about what’s going on at club football whether it’s [Ole Gunnar] Solskjær or any other coach. Players are different, coaches are different.
“The only thing that’s important to me is what he’s doing for the French team and the importance he has on the pitch. He is a born leader and a highly influential player.”
Pogba has never received the same sort of global acclaim someone like Zinedine Zidance received when he was the star of those tournament triumphs in 98 and 2000.
But Pogba will match him if France are crowned champions. He will no longer have to prove anything to anyone – not in France at least. The scene is set.