Laurent Blanc’s France head into Euro 2012 hoping to erase memories of shambolic showings in the previous two major tournaments. Not only did Les Bleus finish bottom of a tough Group C in Euro 2008, but they were also embarrassed in the group stage of the 2010 World Cup. France could only muster a single goal in each of those competitions – a somewhat humiliating fact given the quality of the attacking talent much-maligned manager Raymond Domenech had at his disposal.
But things have taken a turn for the better under Blanc. In the 46-year-old’s first game as manager of the national team – a friendly against Norway – all 23 players from the World Cup squad were suspended following their rebellious actions in South Africa. Blanc lost both that clash and was stunned by defeat in the opening Euro 2012 qualifier against Belarus; however the French have not been beaten in a competitive fixture since then. Despite this upturn in fortunes, France’s reputation will not be fully restored unless they progress through a tricky group in Poland and Ukraine.
In order to reach the knockout stages, Blanc will be hoping that some of the exciting players who have played a prominent role in helping France to qualify for the tournament – including the likes of Mathieu Debuchy, Adil Rami, Yohan Cabaye and Yann M’Vila – are fresh and raring to go ahead of their first group game against England. While Blanc has experimented with different players since he was appointed as boss, Les Blues are likely to utilise a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation.
Highly-rated Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris will stand between the sticks, while the impressive Debuchy is favourite to start at right-back in the absence of injured Arsenal defender Bacary Sagna. The Gunners’ Laurent Koscielny, Valencia’s Rami and Milan’s Philippe Mexes will battle it out for the two centre-back spots, while Patrice Evra should get the nod on the left side of defence.
Should Blanc opt for a 4-2-3-1 system as expected, then Arsenal target M’Vila and Newcastle midfielder Cabaye are likely to protect the back four. The rest of the midfield and attacking places appear to be up for grabs. Marseille star Loic Remy had been expected to travel to Poland and Ukraine, but he will be eliminated from Blanc’s provisional squad because of injury, meaning Hatem Ben Arfa, Jeremy Menez and Mathieu Valbuena will fight it out for a place on the right flank. Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud, who scored 21 league goals for French title winners Montpellier this term, could play a significant role this summer, even though Karim Benzema will be favourite to start up-front against England.
Despite failing miserably at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, France will be expected to make a success of this tournament. On paper, Les Bleus have a strong side with some terrific squad players. Blanc can rely on some skilful attacking options from the bench if France find themselves in a position where they need to turn things around during a game. While reaching the knockout stages would be a respectable achievement following the debacle in South Africa, the French will be hoping to go one step further and progress to the semi-final stage of the tournament. Such a result would provide the nation with a boost ahead of the next World Cup.
One to watch – Karim Benzema: The Real Madrid striker, who was left out of Domenech’s 2010 World Cup squad, has enjoyed a stunning season in Spain, scoring 32 goals in all competitions for the La Liga champions. He also finished as France’s joint top-scorer in the qualifying campaign for Euro 2012. Expect midfielder M’Vila to also attract some attention.
Debuchy – Rami – Mexes – Evra
M’Vila – Cabaye
Menez – Nasri – Ribery
Check out the Euro 2012 odds and get some tips on the European Championships betting.