Football

Wenger picks France as ‘super favourites’ for Euros

Ex-Arsenal boss also names Belgium, England as favourites; Holland as outsiders

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes that France are "super favourites" to win Euro 2020 because of several reasons, including the return of Karim Benzema.

With the Real Madrid striker back in the fold after nearly six years, Les Bleus now boast a fearsome frontline, completed by Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.

France coach Didier Deschamps can also call on the likes of Ousmane Dembele and Kingsley Coman from the bench, for good measure.

That was what happened in their warm-up match in Nice yesterday morning (Singapore time), when Les Bleus trounced a 10-man Wales 3-0.

Benzema's early penalty effort was saved, but it hardly mattered as goals by Mbappe, Griezmann and substitute Dembele ensured a comfortable win.

The result vindicated Wenger's comments on beIN Sports before the game.

"France will be the super favourite of this tournament for many, many reasons," said the 71-year-old.

"The main one, of course, is they just won the World Cup in a convincing way in Russia.

"France are a young team. They have not peaked yet. That's why I believe that we'd be the absolute favourite as well.

"Crucially for the world champions, they do not have any major injury doubts heading into the tournament and the inclusion of Karim Benzema for the first time in five years makes France even stronger in attack."

Wenger also pointed to the depth of Deschamps' squad, with quality options off the bench.

"You would say that only the offensive potential is exceptional, but even the offensive potential on the bench is absolutely unbelievable," said the Frenchman.

"That's why, for me, in that group of central European teams who look to be the favourites - it is France, Belgium, England and Netherlands maybe with a chance - I would put France above the others."

Les Bleus face Bulgaria in their final tune-up next week before opening their Euro 2020 campaign against Germany in Munich on June 15.

They will then meet holders Portugal before rounding off their Group F campaign against Hungary.

LLORIS' 100TH CAP

Against Wales, Deschamps handed goalkeeper Hugo Lloris his 100th start as captain, but midfielder N'Golo Kante was rested after winning the Champions League with Chelsea last weekend.

Deschamps' counterpart Robert Page, standing in for regular boss Ryan Giggs as the former Manchester United winger faces charges of assault, started with Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey on the bench, as the 30-year-old last played in Serie A in April.

Benzema had not played for France since 2015 after a blackmailing scandal. On his return, he was actively involved up front, forcing a save from Danny Ward after four minutes with a header from Paul Pogba's cross.

He threatened again soon, following up on Pogba's header with a shot that resulted in a handball by Liverpool defender Neco Williams.

Following a video assistant referee (VAR) review, France were awarded a penalty and Williams was sent off.

Benzema stepped up, but Ward saved the spot-kick low to his right, meaning Les Bleus have missed five of their last eight penalties.

France stepped up the pressure with an extra man and broke the deadlock 10 minutes before the break.

Adrien Rabiot's shot from outside the box was pushed away by Ward, but Mbappe poked home the rebound for the opener.

Griezmann doubled the lead two minutes into the second half with a curled effort past a fully stretched Ward.

Dembele claimed his side's third goal - and just his fourth for his country - with 11 minutes left after Benzema's shot fired back off the post.

"I felt good throughout the match. It's a good omen for what's to come," Benzema told television channel TF1.

"The key is to create chances, win and do better the next time to score more goals.

"I felt a lot of pride and joy in wearing the shirt again. I wanted to play and to show what I can do tonight on the field."

Deschamps was satisfied with Benzema's display, saying: "He was unlucky but you can see how gifted he is technically. A goal would have capped it off but he's saving the goals for later." - AFP, REUTERS

    • June 16 (Wed), 3am – v Germany
    • June 19 (Sat), 9pm – v Hungary
    • June 24 (Thurs), 3am – v Portugal

    *All in Singapore time

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