Winning the toughest group in the European Championship wasn’t much of a surprise for the World Cup champions. Winning only one match in this group was.
Anyway, it was still enough for France to finish first in Group F and organize a match against Switzerland on Monday in the round of 16.
“A new competition is starting,” said French coach Didier Deschamps.
Along with Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema, Deschamps has enough offensive power to deliver back-to-back major titles, which would match the country’s achievement in 1998 and 2000.
Benzema and Mbappe exchange quick passes and switch positions at the top of the pitch, with the quick and skillful Griezmann operating behind them. But neither of them managed to score in the first 1-0 win over Germany, a game decided by Mats Hummels’ own goal.
Griezmann entered the scoreboard in the 1-1 draw against Hungary, while Benzema scored both in the 2-2 draw with Portugal after joining the national team after an exile of nearly six years.
“We know we have to improve,” said midfielder Paul Pogba, another key France player.
Benzema has just completed a season in which he scored 30 goals for Real Madrid, and one of his previous best performances for France was a 5-2 win over the Swiss at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He scored one, prepared another and turned down yet another because he crossed the line right after the final whistle.
Mbappe, 22, who has scored a career-high 42 goals for Paris St-Germain this season, excelled at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, scoring four goals to help France claim their second tournament title. He scored one of those goals in the 4-2 win over Croatia in the final.
Switzerland has its own battle with history to wage.
The Swiss hope to end a streak of three consecutive round of 16 outings in the majors. Overall, they haven’t won a knockout stage game in any major tournament for 67 years.
Switzerland finished third in Group A with four points, placing among the top four teams in third place. After a 1-1 draw against Wales and a 3-0 loss to Italy, Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic has come under fire for what critics saw as 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 Seferovic added the other. Winger Steven Zuber assisted on all three goals for Switzerland.
Switzerland has never beaten France in a competitive match. In their previous meeting at Euro 2016, the Swiss held host France to a 0-0 draw in a group match.
“The pressure will be on them,” said Swiss defender Loris Benito. “We will stay positive.”