Will the star players shine for France?
All of the Euro 2016 build-up finally comes to an end on Friday, with hosts France getting the tournament up and running against Romania.
France have been installed as the pre-competition favourites and, with a huge array of attacking talent, it is easy to see why Didier Deschamps’ men are being backed to go all the way.
Fantasy football fans can choose from Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud, Anthony Martial and Dimitri Payet for their squads, while France also have one of the best young midfielders in world football, Juventus star Paul Pogba, along with Paris Saint-Germain’s underrated Blaise Matuidi.
As Karim Benzema has been left out of the squad due to disciplinary reasons, there are question marks over Giroud’s suitability at the highest level, but the supporting cast is excellent.
All the signs point to Deschamps’ side having a fantastic tournament on home soil, but they will not necessarily have it all their own way in their opening game against Romania.
The last five competitive meetings between the two sides have seen just one win for France, while there have been four draws. Romania have never beaten France competitively, however.
France head into the tournament in good form, despite a lack of competitive games in the last couple of years, as they qualified for the finals automatically due to their host status.
Since a defeat to England in November – when players’ minds were understandably elsewhere in the wake of the Paris terror attacks – France have won four international friendlies in a row, showing off their potent forward line by scoring at least three goals in each of those matches.
Romania’s preparation for Euro 2016 has been much less impressive. After conceding only two goals during qualifying, Romania lost 4-3 to Ukraine in one of their recent warm-up games, although some confidence was restored with a 5-1 thrashing of Georgia a few days later.
Anghel Iordănescu, the Romanian national team coach, is in his third spell in charge and he led the team to Euro 96, where they suffered a 1-0 defeat to France, who had Deschamps in midfield.
On paper, France should have far too much for their opponents on Friday night, but who are the key players to look out for in fantasy football teams on the opening night?
France fantasy player to watch – Dimitri Payet
Payet is not totally assured of a place in France’s strongest XI, so picking him is a risk for fantasy players. But he has as much upside as any man in the tournament and has been in fine form in the warm-up games, scoring a terrific free-kick to seal a dramatic 3-2 victory against Cameroon.
It is Payet’s sensational set-pieces that make him such an appealing choice for Euro 2016 fantasy football players. The West Ham playmaker recorded nine goals and 12 assists in his debut Premier League campaign despite missing a chunk of the season through injury, earning a spot in the PFA Barclays Premier League Team of the Year.
The quandary for Deschamps is where to fit Payet into his team. France’s coach prefers a 4-3-3 formation, which can sometimes look morph into more of a 4-2-3-1, and Pogba is already pencilled in as the most advanced of the three midfielders.
Payet is therefore likely to be competing for one of the two wide roles in the French front three, but with Martial and Griezmann also hoping to be selected he might have to start on the bench.
Romania fantasy player to watch – Nicolae Stanciu
Romania lack star names, but if there is one player in their squad who could go on to reach the heights of Gheorghe Hagi then it is certainly Steaua Bucureşti’s playmaker Nicolae Stanciu.
The 23-year-old only made his international debut in March but four goals in his five caps to date have propelled him straight into the team, where he is likely to take over the number 10 role from Lucian Sănmărtean, 36, who had a disappointing club campaign.
Creativity and goals look likely to be the main issues for Romania at the finals, so there is a lot of pressure on Stanciu to deliver, as long as Iordănescu is bold and puts his faith in the young talent.