So, Euro 2016 kicks off on Friday 10th June with the hosts France taking on Romania in St-Denis. So what if I told you to just place a bet on the highest ranked team in this fixture according to FIFA? You'd probably be throwing away your stake as shockingly, Romania are actually ranked higher than the French in the current FIFA standings. The more shrewd readers will probably know that this is because France did not have to compete in the qualifiers and therefore slipped down the rankings over the past 2 years.
The French have actually won the last 2 major international football tournaments held in France ( 1984 Euros and 1998 World Cup ) so they will be hoping to make it three times in a row and they have an excellent opportunity to do so.
Didier Deschamps took them to the Quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup and now players such as Pogba and Varane are older and wiser and have a lot of trophies at club level. You should see a different France in the summer.
As for the Romanians, they reached the Quarter-finals of Euro 2000 but since then they have either failed to qualify or been eliminated in the Group Stages of every other World Cup or European Championship that has been held. If manager Anghel Iordanescu can mastermind a historical victory here, he'll be remembered in footballing folklore alongside the likes of Otto Rehhagal for Greece.
Without completely writing off Romania, France have slipped up in their opening game before against a team considered to be weaker, in 2002, as World and European Champions they were embarrassed by El-Hadji Diouf and co.'s Senegal, losing 1-0 so it is not completely out of the realms of possibility.
We can't see any other outcome here, the French have looked in great form in recent friendlies and probably have their best squad in around a decade with unfamiliar faces breaking through at club level like Dimitri Payet, N'Golo Kante and Anthony Martial adding to the already experienced squad. They pummelled Russia in their last game 4-2 and that scoreline flattered the Russians. They have a world class player for every position and a world class player in back up too.
The Romanians managed to qualify automatically from Qualifying Group F behind Northern Ireland and only conceded 2 goals from start to finish however, they drew 5 games! Which means they were involved in 3 0-0 draws against teams like Finland and Greece, which simply is not good enough. In fact, Romania even drew their last game against Spain 0-0, Could there be a cheeky bet there?
As we mentioned before, Romania do not score many goals and they don't concede many either, whereas France do score a hatful of goals with 9 in their last 4. We expect both of these stats to come into play and France will eventually break the Romanians down.
France have scored 4 goals in the first half of their last 2 games and Deschamps has them coming out of the blocks very quickly these days, add to that the electric atmosphere of an opening game of a European Championships as the Home Nation and France will want to start quickly. If France do get in front early on, Romania may have to do something out of character and attack, and then maybe their defensive discipline could unravel, allowing France to finish the job.
We're pretty certain that Antoine Griezmann ( 48 goals in 61 games for Atletico ) will start the opening game and although Olivier Giroud has an eye for goal ( 53 in 118 for Arsenal ) we just feel that Griezmann will pose the biggest threat and will therefore be a great bet for first goal scorer. He has pace, skill and a lethal finish, so much so that he was our dark horse bet for the Golden Boot.
If you were feeling a little bit more adventurous, then Bogdan Stancu is your best bet to score a shock first goal but as Romania only scored 11 in 10 qualifying games, it would be the shock of the century.
Dimitri Payet has scored 5 direct free kicks for West Ham and France since January. He is one of the best free kick takers we have ever seen and he can score them from anywhere, he has proven that. Some bookies may offer this as a cheeky punt and it's a lot more likely than you would think.