We are in the round of 16 and France, the reigning world champion, is still the favorite to win Euro 2021.
Apart from a surprising draw against Hungary in the scorching heat of Budapest, the French seemed to navigate rather effortlessly to first place in the toughest group at Euro. They left the impression that they could flip the switch on their attack circular saw whenever they wanted.
And to think that the French finished at the top of this group without needing Kylian Mbappe to score a goal or an assist in the three matches. Of course, the return of Karim Benzema helps and they will be happy that he scored his goals (two against Portugal). And an inspired Paul Pogba is quietly gaining recognition as the team’s MVP, setting up visiting clinics from his midfield position.
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Switzerland, for its part, operates on another level of football’s existence. The “Nati” have already reached the minimum objective of leaving the group stage. The Swiss’s ultimate goal would be to win their first knockout match in a major competition since the 1938 World Cup.
But no one at home expects them to beat the French. Doing so would be the biggest shake-up to those Euros, even bigger than the Czech Republic knocking out the Dutch on Sunday.
How Switzerland can hurt France
Hungary will be the model of the Swiss. The Hungarians settled in the same way with a 5-man backline and they made defense the priority against Pogba & Co., surprising France with a sudden push forward for their only goal.
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The problem is that Switzerland couldn’t contain or really hurt the only elite team they have played so far. In the 3-0 group stage loss to Italy, the shortcomings of the Swiss defense were regularly exposed by the Italians with balloons over or races in space. The Swiss defenders lost track of the runners and were easily removed from their position. The video of the match could have made the French attackers salivate in the face of hopes.
Considering how the odds are stacked against them and how their defense will invariably give up scoring chances, there is an argument to be made that Switzerland head coach Vladimir Petkovic should ensure that his players face France: going out to try to annoy France with a high press that no one will see coming.
France’s Achilles heel
If Breel Embolo’s three Swiss forwards, Haris Seferovic and Xherdan Shaqiri (below) are in their game, they could create problems for a French defense that can be beaten.
Full-back positions – Lucas Hernandez or Lucas Digne on the left and Benjamin Pavard on the right – are widely seen as the Frenchman’s weak point, and center-back Raphael Varane has also been criticized for occasional defensive failures.
But even with all this, the Blues have conceded only one goal over the course of the game in three matches, against Hungary. They also have N’Golo Kante patrolling the space in front of the back line, the best safety blanket in world football.
France vs Switzerland: odds and predictions
This version of Didier Deschamps’ France has a reputation for practicing only when absolutely necessary. He must stay true to form against Switzerland and spend the minimum required to ensure a comfortable victory.
In this vein, it could prove to be an opportunity for the French star Mbappe (only 0.9 goal expected so far by FBref), who has only stood out for refused goals, to take the opportunity to register his name on the scoresheet with a goal or an assist. There are some interesting odds available on this front.
It would be a slight surprise in this game if Switzerland could also get on the board and make things interesting for a while. There is some value on “both teams to score” if you are convinced that there is a Swiss goal in it.
Prediction: France 2, Switzerland 1
Odds courtesy of DraftKings
- France to win (90 min): -162
- France is advancing: -455
- Prize draw (90 min): +270
- Switzerland wins (90 min): +550
- Switzerland is moving forward: +340
- France scores first and wins: -134
- The two teams score: +115
- France wins and both teams score: +320
- Kylian Mbappé will score: +175
- Mbappe or Griezmann to give an assist: +125