Euro 2016 are already feeling the heat following their underwhelming start to the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying process and will be under huge pressure to record a home win over Bulgaria on Saturday in order to gain their footing in Group A.
Having allowed the opportunity to lift the European Championship trophy in front of their own fans this summer slip through their fingers, France head into the new qualifying campaign with a slight dent in their confidence. An underwhelming goalless stalemate at the beginning of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers at Belarus exposed big weaknesses to Didier Deschamps’ team, but Euro 2016 finalists are eager to show that it was just a minor slip-up as they prepare to welcome Bulgaria on Saturday. Les Bleus face a challenging task in Group A they share with the likes of Sweden and Netherlands which are other two top place contenders. Aware of the great challenge that lies ahead France will be keen to uphold their reputation of group favourites as they head into the forthcoming clashes against Bulgaria and Netherlands. Deschamps had a couple of selection problems with Barcelona’s Jeremy Mathieu refusing a call up and announcing his surprise decision to retire from international duty.
Paris Saint-Germain defender Presnel Kimpembe has been called up as a replacement for the injured Eliaquim Mangala. Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte has received a call-up for the first time since choosing to represent Les Bleus instead of La Roja. Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud have been the most prominent omissions from the squad.
Bulgaria are leading the pack after the first round of matches and their goal glut against Luxemburg and a hard-fought 4-3 win. Having missed out on the place in the 2016 Europan Championship finals in France, Bulgaria opened the new chapter looking to restore the glory of their famous predecessors from 1994, who reached the World Cup semi-finals and finishing fourth in total, with legendary Hristo Stoichkov being awarded the Golden Boot for scoring six goals in the tournament before scooping a Ballon D’or later that year. Last couple of decades brought nothing but disappointment for Bulgarians who will head into the France duel with a new manager. Bulgaria have surprisingly appointed Petar Hubchev as their new head coach, who replaces Ivaylo Petev at the helm. Hubchev is Bulgaria’s 10th national coach since Plamen Markov’s sacking after Euro 2004, which was the last time Bulgaria appeared at the finals of a major tournament.
New head coach Hubchev made no changes to the squad list ahead of Bulgaria’s forthcoming matches. Preslav Yordanov has been ruled out by injury, while Hubchev will lay his faith in Popov, Rangelov and Marcelinho who are identified as the most important members of the team.
Despite their opening win against Luxemburg, Bulgaria were highly vulnerable making huge errors which almost cost them the three points and which France will be looking to use in their favour. Didier Deschamps’ men are the more quality side and the forthcoming game is a perfect opportunity to announce their comeback onto the scene.
Top pick: France/France 1.62 (8/13) @BetVictor
Alternative pick 1: Both teams to score – No 1.53 (8/15) @PaddyPower
Alternative pick 2: France to win to Nil 1.62 (8/13) @SkyBet