Euro 2012 focus on France: Are France becoming a force again?
We take a look at England’s first opponent, France. Having disappointed at the last two major tournaments, can Les Bleus recapture their glory years this summer.
With the European Championships almost upon us it is clear that before kick-off on Friday, the three favourites to win the tournament are Spain, Germany and the Netherlands.
These three giants of European football may be worthy competitors, but France should not be overlooked. Two years on from their unbelievable meltdown at the World Cup in South Africa, their turnaround has been notable.
The current manager, Laurent Blanc, has reformed a team that was in complete disarray and turned them into a disciplined national side. The choice of Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as captain highlights Blanc’s commitment to picking talents rather than the biggest characters in the dressing room.
The Manager: Laurent Blanc
Nicknamed Lolo & Le President, Blanc stands at 6ft 3½in tall, allowing the Frenchman to cut an imposing figure in the technical area. He was a gifted player who relied heavily on technical ability; this alone will allow him to command respect from his troops during tactical training sessions.
If Laurent Blanc manages to avoid a face-to-face row with Patrice Evra and bans Bob Crow from the team hotel, he will probably manage to go one step further than his predecessor, the enigmatic Raymond Domenech.
His arrival has provided the team with the stability that was needed. France has always been a football nation that is bursting with talent, but Blanc has added one key ingredient, team spirit.
He has gained the respect of the players as manager and was also a part of the side that last lifted the trophy for France in 2000. Blanc’s past achievements and presence in the dressing room have brought the French players together. He is also tactically astute. If there is a problem in defence, he will take note and make the necessary adjustments.
Montpellier (Fr), Naples (Ita), Nîmes (Fr), Saint-Étienne (Fr), AJ Auxerre (Fr), Barcelone (Esp), (OM) Marseille (Fr), Inter Milan (Ita), Manchester United (Eng)
He also played for France in the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
Likely team + formation: 4-2-3-1
Hugo Lloris (C)
Mathieu Debuchy – Adil Rami – Philippe Mexès – Patrice Evra
Yann M’Vila – Yohan Cabaye
Loic Rémy – Samir Nasri – Franck Ribéry
After two years of formation tweaking, Les Bleus appear to be more attack-minded under Blanc; they look to dominate possession with sharp triangles and they attempt to move the ball forward at pace, trying to get Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema on the ball as quickly as possible. The aforementioned trio will almost certainly be the players in the limelight; however, if they progress past the group stages, it will be down to the two central figures, Yann M’Vila and Yohan Cabaye.
Rising Star: Yann M’Vila
The holding midfielder has represented France at every level before making his senior debut in Laurent Blanc’s opening game in charge. M’Vila scored once in eight appearances during qualifying and looks set to have a promising tournament.
Key Men: Karim Benzema
The rejuvenated Karim Benzema can be the star player for France in this tournament. Whilst Cristiano Ronaldo made all the headlines for Real Madrid last season, Benzema quietly produced some stellar performances. Having surpassed 30 goals for the season, he helped his club side to their first La Liga title in four years.
Ever since his move to the Spanish club in 2009, expectations have been high, but Benzema’s form this season has not only shown that he can deal with the pressure, but that he can help his team to win.
It’s an unconventional pick, sure, but Cabaye has recently returned to International football under Blanc, following a fantastic season for Newcastle United. His set-piece delivery rivals any player in world football at present; he possesses excellent vision and exceptional technical qualities. Yann M’Vila will sit the deeper of the two central players, allowing Cabaye to push forward and dominate the attacking play.
Out of all of the teams playing in Poland and Ukraine, France arguably have the most to prove, after the shocking debacle of the 2010 World Cup. The complete disarray that was displayed at the tournament represented one of the lowest points in the country’s football history.
The French public has not forgotten and, as the first major tournament since then, the players’ off-field conduct will surely be under as much scrutiny as their play on the pitch. Although, Laurent Blanc will know that his team’s mental temperament will be key.
The fact that France is not a part of the ‘group of death’ should not be disregarded. None of the groups in the European Championships can be described as “easy”, but neither Sweden, Ukraine nor England will be feared by their French opponents.
The French side’s unbeaten run in 2012 means that they come into their first game with confidence. If Les Bleus can record a comprehensive victory over Roy Hodgson’s England, the rest of Europe would surely take notice.
In order to record a historic win, France must continue to develop during the three-week period. The French fans are quietly confident and their faith could be rewarded on 1st July if their best performers produce the quality displays that are expected of them.
Matt predicts: Second spot in Group D behind Ukraine and will lose to Spain in the quarter-finals.
Joanna predicts: First spot in Group D with England in second. France will reach the final and win. They are the underdogs of the competition.
Monday 11th – 5pm V England
Friday 15th – 5pm V Ukraine
Tuesday 15th – 7.45pm V Sweden
Joanna Kamenou & Matt O’Brien