Football Tips

Euro 2022 Tips: Fractured French can still win

France coach Corinne Diacre
France coach Corinne Diacre demands obedience at all costs

"France may not progress beyond the quarter-finals, but I expect them to win this group. Italy will however make them work hard for an opening victory."

Group D kicks off on Sunday, and Kevin Hatchard's taken a look at France v Italy and Belgium against Iceland...

French drama could hold them back

France v Italy
Sunday 10 July, 20:00
Live on BBC Two

It's not unusual for French sides to be riven by internal politics before a during a major football tournament, and all too familiar problems could plague France at EURO 2022. Coach Corinne Diacre is a deeply divisive figure - she has left out legendary players like Amandine Henry and Eugenie Le Sommer, and she controversially stripped outstanding defender Wendie Renard of the captaincy.

France regularly qualify for the knockout stages of tournaments, but they are yet to win a World Cup or a European Championship. They hosted the World Cup three years ago, but lost to eventual winners the USA in the quarter-finals. Indeed, they have never gone beyond the last eight in a major tournament, and with Sweden or the Netherlands likely to oppose them in the quarter-finals here this summer, that record might not be about to improve.

There are positives, however. Marie-Antoinette Katoto is a bona fide superstar, a pure goalscorer who has been exceptional for France (25 goals in 30 caps) and indeed PSG. At club level, the 23-year-old almost averages a goal a game. Diacre's failure to select Katoto for the 2019 World Cup was yet another call that sparked debate.

France could barely have had better results in the build-up to this tournament, with a run of 14 straight wins that have featured 62 French goals. That sequence has included wins over Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil and Wales. Diacre's doing things her way, but at least for now, it's working.

Opponents Italy have been getting good results against top sides for a while now, and they are expected to emerge from this group. They drew 1-1 with pre-tournament favourites Spain in a friendly, and at the Algarve Cup they beat Norway and Denmark, before losing on penalties to Sweden after a 1-1 draw.

Juventus forward Cristiana Girelli provides the bite in attack (she scored nine goals in WC qualifying) while the tough Sara Gama holds everything together at the back. The Azzurre would love to echo the glory years of the 1990s, when the team twice reached the final of this competition.

France to edge a close one

Talent-wise, France are the better team, but Italy have repeatedly shown they are no pushovers. They have only conceded multiple goals in two of their last 18 matches. We can use the Sportsbook's Bet Builder to back France to win and Under 3.5 Goals at evens. That covers a 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 French victory.

I also like the idea of backing Katoto to score at any time at 1.9210/11. She is a goal machine, and France will look to find her early on at every opportunity.

Outsiders can strike some sparks

Belgium v Iceland
Sunday 10 July, 17:00
Live on BBC Two

With France and Italy the two big hitters in this group, Belgium and Iceland both know that this is a must-win encounter. Belgium are still in the mix to qualify for the World Cup, and are pushing Norway hard for top spot in their section. Against England in a pre-tournament friendly, Ives Serneels' side caused problems in the first half, before eventually losing 3-0. It's worth bearing in mind that Belgium have done well to even qualify for the finals of a major tournament.

Belgium are a prolific side, and their star player is their record scorer Tessa Wullaert. The Fortuna Sittard forward excelled for Anderlecht, and she has spells at Wolfsburg and Manchester City on her cv.

Iceland haven't had the best preparation for the tournament, given that coach Jon Thor Hauksson had to step down after drinking too much after securing qualification, and making inappropriate comments as a result.

On a more positive note, star player Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir is an inspiration. She gave birth in November, but was back on the pitch in April, and she has had trophy-laden spells with European powerhouses Wolfsburg and Lyon.

Iceland are in decent form, having won five of their six World Cup qualifiers. The only exception was the clash with the Netherlands, which they lost 2-0.

Goals on the cards?

These teams both have firepower, and they have to go for the win. Eking out a draw is of no use at this stage. Both have been scoring freely in World Cup qualifying, and I'll go for Over 2.5 Goals here at 2.186/5. If you want to use the Sportsbook's Bet Builder you could back Over 2.5 Goals and Belgium/Draw Double Chance at 2.99.

I also think Wullaert is overpriced in the To Score market at 3.185/40. She's the star of the Belgian attack, and this opener could be her stage. The 29-year-old has scored 67 goals in 109 caps.

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