Sunday schedule gives France a chance at Euro 2016

France coach Didier Deschamps, right, celebrates at the end of the Euro 2016 round of 16 soccer match between France and Ireland, at the Grand Stade in Decines-Charpieu, near Lyon, France, Sunday, June 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

PARIS (AP) — On any given Sunday, a rested France team will play at the European Championship.

In tournament soccer where a team’s matches typically come every four days, France’s schedule is more like a club team.

On Sunday, June 19, France drew 0-0 with Switzerland to ensure first place in its group. That earned France a match against Ireland in the round of 16 exactly one week later. The hosts won 2-1. Next Sunday, France will return to Stade de France for a quarterfinal match against either England or Iceland.

That leisurely route through Euro 2016 compares favorably to the relatively hard schedule for Portugal — a possible opponent in the final on another Sunday, July 10.

The team led by Cristiano Ronaldo is now on a Wednesday-Saturday-Thursday program for its equivalent matches — three in eight days instead of the 15 days for France.

Portugal had only two full days of rest after a 3-3 draw with Hungary on Wednesday, which left Ronaldo and his teammate in third place in Group F.

In the round of 16 on Saturday, Portugal was rewarded for a cautious and often spoiling performance with a 1-0 win over Croatia in extra time.

“We know we have not enough time to recover,” Portugal midfielder Joao Mario said before facing Croatia. “But if you get to the knockout stage, you always feel energized.”

Ireland coach Martin O’Neill did not see it that way after being ousted by France.

France's Adil Rami runs after the ball during the Euro 2016 round of 16 soccer match between France and Ireland, at the Grand Stade in Decines-­Charpieu, near Lyon, France, Sunday, June 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
France’s Adil Rami runs after the ball during the Euro 2016 round of 16 soccer match between France and Ireland, at the Grand Stade in Decines-­Charpieu, near Lyon, France, Sunday, June 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Like Portugal, the Irish had played its final group match on Wednesday, three days after France had completed its group.

“It is incredible. It is really incredible,” O’Neill told British broadcaster ITV after seeing his players tire in Lyon and lose a lead they had held since the second minute. “Three days is far too much, it is genuinely too much, and it took its toll on us in the second half.”

Ireland expended a lot of energy late into Wednesday evening — in a Lille stadium made humid by the retractable roof being closed — to score an 85th-minute winning goal against Italy that it needed to advance.

“Physically it was very, very demanding. We definitely got the short straw in that aspect,” O’Neill said of match schedule designed by UEFA.

“France, it looks as if it was geared for them to win their group, which they did. Well done them,” the Ireland coach said. “It will sound from here now as if that’s an excuse (for losing) and that’s not meant to be.”

UEFA said the schedule it uses was well established to spread a maximum of seven games for the two finalists into a 51-match program over 31 days.

“The calendar is a consolidated pattern used in other 24-team tournaments, including previous World Cups,” UEFA said in a statement.

Still, the 31-day program applies only to France, which began on June 10. Portugal started against Iceland on June 14 and is looking at a 27-day tournament to reach the final.

However, one aspect of the schedule could work against France and coach Didier Deschamps as they seek to match the 1984 European Championship and 1998 World Cup teams which won titles on home turf.

Because France is in the bottom half of the draw, it would play in the semifinals on a Thursday — possibly against Germany — and have only two days off before the final.

It is a quirk of a schedule that spreads quarterfinals over four consecutive evenings, each starting at 1900 GMT, yet pushes the semifinals into Wednesday and Thursday of the last week.

A lesson of the 1982 World Cup, when both semifinals were on Thursday before a Sunday final, shows it can be challenging.

France faced West Germany in the later kick off on a hot evening in Seville, Spain, and played an epic, grueling semifinal to a 3-3 draw after extra time. The Germans won the penalty shootout, and faded in the second half of a final that Italy won 3-1.

That is a risk France will surely take at Euro 2016 if it is playing on July 10 — a Sunday.

 

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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