Winning the toughest group in the European Championship was not really a big surprise for the World Cup champions. However, winning only one match in this group was.
Nevertheless, it was enough for France to finish first in Group F and host a match against Switzerland on Monday in the round of 16.
“A new competition is starting,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.
With Killian Mbape, Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema, Deschamps has enough attacking power to deliver key titles – something to match the country’s achievements in 1998 and 2000.
Benzema and Mbape exchange quick passes and change positions high in the field, followed by the fast and skillful Griezmann. But none of them managed to score in the initial 1-0 victory over Germany, a match decided by an own goal by Mats Hummels.
Griezmann climbed the scoreboard in the 1-1 draw against Hungary, while Benzema scored both in the 2-2 draw against Portugal, after joining the national team after an exile of almost six years.
“We know we need to improve,” said midfielder Paul Pogba, another of France’s key players.
Benzema is coming out of a season in which he had 30 goals for Real Madrid, and one of his previous best appearances for France brought a 5: 2 victory over Switzerland at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He scored one, put another and another was banned because he crossed the border just after the last whistle.
The 22-year-old Mbape, who has scored 42 goals in his career for Paris Saint-Germain this season, excelled at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, scoring four goals along the way to help France win its second title in the tournament. He scored one of those goals in a 4-2 victory over Croatia in the final.
Switzerland has its own battle with history.
The Swiss hope to end three consecutive appearances in the round of 16 of the major tournaments. Overall, they have not won a knockout match in any major tournament in 67 years.
Switzerland finished third in Group A with four points, advancing as one of the top four teams in third place. After a 1-1 draw with Wales and a 3-0 loss to Italy, Swiss coach Vladimir Petkovic came under fire for negative tactics and a lack of creativity.
The team turned things around in the final group game, a 3-1 victory over Turkey. Xherdan Shaqiri scored two goals and Haris Seferović added the other. Winger Stephen Zuber assisted on all three goals for Switzerland.
Switzerland has never beaten France in a competitive game. In their previous match at Euro 2016, the Swiss led France to a 0-0 draw in a group match.
“The pressure will be on them,” said Swiss defender Loris Benito. “We will remain positive.”