France are World Cup winners, have not lost a competitive match for more than two years, boast arguably the best young player in the world and are on their longest ever unbeaten run against their last-16 opponents at Euro 2020, Switzerland.
Based on that, the result will be a formality. But those statistics belie a tricky test for Les Bleus before they reach the quarter-finals, with Vladimir Petkovic’s side vowing to push themselves ‘beyond their limits’ in the Romania heat.
Here, Sportsmail explains why the Swiss could be a potential banana skin for tournament favourites France ahead of their clash at the National Arena in Bucharest.
Switzerland have several reasons to be optimistic before their last-16 tie vs France on Monday
KEEPING IT TIGHT
Despite France being unbeaten in their last seven against Switzerland, four of the last five matches between the sides, 80 per cent, have finished level. The most recent game at a major competition, a Euro 2016 group game, ended goalless too.
Three of the four knockout games at Euro 2020 so far have proved cagey affairs, with Italy squeezing past Switzerland’s alpine neighbours Austria in extra time, Holland being upstaged by underdogs Czech Republic and Belgium edging out Portugal.
France finished top of their group and Switzerland were third in theirs, but Les Bleus only gained one more point (five to four) than their next opponents.
Didier Deschamps’ side scraped past Germany 1-0 despite largely dominating, needed a Peter Gulacsi mistake to equalise against Hungary and drew again against Portugal, at times looking defensively vulnerable and conceding two penalties.
The Swiss did lose convincingly to Italy but were unfortunate not to beat Wales and eased past Turkey, and before that were unbeaten in eight, meaning they will fancy their chances if the game turns out to be another tight one.
Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic has vowed to go ‘beyond their limits’ to win the match
Switzerland have racked up 7,245 air miles at so far at the Euro 2020 tournament, travelling to Baku, Rome, Baku again and now Bucharest for their last-16 match against France on Monday
A FAVOURABLE FIXTURE LIST
Switzerland have also had a much longer recovery period ahead of the last-16 tie, with seven days of preparation since their last game on Sunday, June 20, compared to four for France, who last played on Wednesday, June 23.
‘Eight days is all the better for them,’ said France boss Deschamps. ‘I would have preferred at least five days instead of four to prepare.’
Those extra three days of rest and recuperation could prove crucial in the Romanian capital, where the mercury tipped 29°C (84°F) on Sunday.
It will also help Petkovic’s men recover from the whopping 7,245 air miles they have had to cover for their matches so far – the most in the tournament as it stands.
Petkovic said: ‘With opponents like France if you give 100 per cent and they give 100 per cent then that’s just not enough. We have to go beyond our limits, beyond 100 per cent.’
France will have three days fewer of preparation after their last game, which could be costly
FRENCH FITNESS ISSUES
There will also be several players missing for Deschamps, including potentially both of the left-backs he named in his squad. Everton’s Lucas Digne is definitely out, and his deputy, Lucas Hernandez, is also a doubt.
The manager has therefore confirmed that France could switch to an unfamiliar back three system using wing-backs, with Benjamin Pavard on the right and the left-footed Adrien Rabiot – typically a central midfielder – on the left.
It would also mean Deschamps likely picking one of Clement Lenglet and Kurt Zouma, out of favour at Barcelona and Chelsea respectively, as the third centre back.
For Switzerland, goalkeeper Yann Sommer, Borussia Dortmund centre half Manuel Akanji and Atalanta midfielder Remo Freuler provide a strong spine to a functional side, and striker Breel Embolo looks very difficult to play against, too.
Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri is in fine goalscoring form and wideman Steven Zuber is joint-top of the assist charts with three, with both gaining momentum at just the right time. Shaqiri, in particular, looks keen, hungry and clinical.
Lucas Digne (pictured) and Lucas Hernandez may miss out, leaving France without a left-back
BENZEMA AND CO YET TO CLICK
Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema. The talented triumvirate expected to explode at this tournament have so far proved a damp squib.
The Germany game was characterised by missed opportunities and decided by an own goal, Mbappe has threatened but is still yet to score, while Griezmann tapped in after a goalkeeping mistake and Benzema has two, one of which was a penalty.
There are plenty of examples of teams and players starting out the tournament in so-so form before improving as the competition progresses, but so far the French are yet to find the right attacking combination.
Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud – once described as a ‘go-kart’ by Benzema, compared to himself as a ‘Formula One car’ – might be the missing link, with his unselfishness perhaps more useful to the team than Benzema’s more individualistic instincts.
On the other hand, Giroud has criticised Mbappe recently for his lack of service, with the Paris Saint-Germain star blasted for his ‘oversized ego’ by former France winger Jerome Rothen too.
Front three of Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe (above) are yet to click
PRESSURE ON THE ‘FAVOURITES’
France are, clearly, hot favourites, and are fully expected to progress, with talk of their semi-final and final opponents already. It’s much less tangible and measureable but that pressure and expectation could weigh heavily on the French shoulders.
They do have the experience, having won the 2018 World Cup, and the camp are making all the right noises in terms of treating Switzerland seriously and not taking anything for granted.
But unlike 2018, this coronavirus-affected season has been an ultra-gruelling campaign for many France stars – Griezmann played 51 club games last season, N’Golo Kante 48, Mbappe 47, Benzema 46, Paul Pogba 42.
As World Cup winners the target is on their backs now and they have to accept and deal with that.
Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka said this week: ‘This team is ready to make history.’ Are they? We’ll find out tonight.
Didier Deschamps’ XI may also struggle with the weight of pressure and expectation on them