After an opening ceremony featuring a lively can-can and rather odd David Guetta micro-set, then La Marseillaise belted out by the emotional Paris crowd, Euro 2016 hosts and 7/2 favourites France very nearly fell apart three minutes into their own party.
Had Bogdan Stancu beaten Hugo Lloris from three yards out or Florin Andone’s header from the resulting corner been a little lower, France would have found themselves in the same position they did at World Cup 2002 against Senegal, when they went down 1-0 and ended up crashing out of the tournament with a point.
Didier Deschamps’ men got better, eventually scraping a 2-1 win thanks to a remarkable, desperate effort from Dmitri Payet in the 89th minute, after Stancu’s penalty cancelled out Olivier Giroud’s opener, but this Les Bleus side looks out of balance compared to three of the next four countries in the betting.
Take next door neighbours Belgium, 10/1 fifth favourites.
For Giroud, they have Romelu Lukaku. For Payet, Kevin De Bruyne, for Antoine Griezmann, Eden Hazard, Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco and so on.
France may just edge that forward battle, but at the back it’s a different world.
Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, the Premier League’s best centre-half pairing last term at Tottenham, sit in front of Thibaut Courtois in goal for Belgium, with experienced heads Thomas Vermaelen, Radja Nainggolan, Axel Witsel and even Marouane Fellaini around for their defensive nous.
Hugo Lloris looks like he has a busy few weeks on his hands behind Laurent Koscielny and Adil Rami, a previously unfancied 30-year-old playing his fifth international in six years.
ITV’s Emmanuel Petit spoke of Rami struggling under pressure and Koscielny needing a stabilising figure beside him.
Somehow France managed to stay level when these fears were realised three minutes in, while 35-year-old full-back Patrice Evra almost squandered the good fortune with the lazy concession of the penalty.
Lee Dixon suggested prior to kick-off that France are so good going forward that their defensive deficiencies won’t matter, but that was not borne out in the performance of ‘superstar’ Paul Pogba, clearly talented but too individual, with Griezmann hardly electric and Giroud awkward and wasteful.
Furthermore, it doesn’t get any better at the back for France, with Raphael Varane, Jeremy Mathieu and Kurt Zouma’s absences meaning Eliaquim Mangala is the last cab on the centre-half rank. Frightening.
Lloris, Payet and N’Golo Kante can’t win Euro 2016 on their own, Didier. Germany, 15/4 second favourites, should get stronger as the tournament progresses with the likes of Mats Hummels recovering from injury. They look a much better bet.