France Euro 2012 Focus - Quarter-finals beckon
France all but booked their place in the quarter-finals of the European Championships with a routine 2-0 victory over co-hosts Ukraine on Friday evening. Laurent Blanc’s side appeared to be comfortable for large parts of the clash and secured their first victory in an international tournament since a slender semi-final triumph over Portugal during the 2006 World Cup.
Les Bleus currently head Group D, but are level on points with second place England. Should France remain top of the group after the last round of fixtures, then they will face Italy at the next stage. However, a second place finish would see them paired with pre-tournament favourites and current European and world champions Spain.
Their next opponents, Sweden, have nothing to play for because of their defeats to England and Ukraine, but with Zlatan Ibrahimovic still expected to play, Erik Hamren’s team are always capable of scoring a goal. Indeed, Blanc has warned his players not to underestimate the Swedes. Not only would a good result allow Les Bleus to avoid Spain, but it would also give them confidence and momentum as they head in to the latter stages of the competition.
Newcastle United midfielder Yohan Cabaye, who sealed victory over Ukraine with a clean finish, could miss out with a hamstring injury. The 26-year-old has quickly become a key player for the national team, but with France likely to qualify for the next stage, it would be somewhat sensible to leave him out if there is any hint that he may not be fully fit for the game.
But as one could be left out, another may be drafted in. Highly-rated defensive midfielder Yann M’Vila, who has been linked with a move to the Premier League and Arsenal for a number of transfer windows, returned from injury with a 20 minute cameo appearance in the last fixture and the tough-tackling holding player could now return to the starting line-up. Alou Diarra is likely to make way, if Cabaye is deemed fit.
Full-back Mathieu Debuchy, who has been one of the stars under the Blanc regime, may also be left out. The defender, who is admired by Newcastle, is just one booking away from a suspension and the manager may decide to protect him by giving him a rest against Sweden. Anthony Reveillere could deputise.
Les Bleus are more than likely to progress to the next stage, but the key thing will be to finish top of Group D and avoid Spain. With a number of impressive attacking options, including the likes of Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema at Blanc’s disposal, France have enough quality to test a shaky Swedish defence. However, with Cabaye and Debuchy, two of the key players under the current manager, possibly missing out, there may be some weaknesses for Hamren’s side to exploit.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on England v Ukraine