Laurent Blanc’s rejuvenated France side will head into their tough opening Euro 2012 Group D fixture against rivals England brimming with confidence after recording three encouraging friendly victories in the last couple of weeks. Les Bleus were strongly tested in the first of those fixtures against Iceland, where they were forced to come back from 2-0 down to claim a morale-boosting 3-2 victory thanks to centre-back Adil Rami’s late winner. Since then, France have beaten Serbia 2-0 and Estonia 4-0 to extend their unbeaten run to an impressive 21 games.
While England are likely to provide a tougher test than Estonia, the French have demonstrated that they will be no pushovers in the upcoming tournament following disastrous showings in the 2010 World Cup and in Euro 2008. Under Blanc, France appear to be more organised and difficult to beat, while their skilful attacking players have gone forward with conviction. The absence of forward Loic Remy, who was due to play on the right hand side of midfield but will miss the tournament through injury, has made little difference. Blanc has several potential replacements at his disposal, including the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa, Mathieu Valbuena and Jeremy Menez.
One key player who could miss the opening encounter is highly-rated defensive midfielder Yann M’Vila. The tough-tackling Rennes star, who is being tracked closely by Arsenal and other European clubs, recently sustained an ankle strain. While the 21-year-old will still travel to Poland and Ukraine, he may not recover in time to face England, so Alou Diarra may deputise. M’Vila’s absence would come as a blow to Blanc, but given that Diarra is a like-for-like replacement it would not scupper France’s plans and tactics too much.
Despite their good form, Blanc still believes that his defence must improve ahead of the European Championships. Les Bleus may have kept two clean sheets in their last two fixtures, but the manager has not been entirely convinced by the performances of his back-line. According to the Guardian, Blanc said: “I’m not going to beat around the bush. Our defence was not good enough.” He added: “The most important thing, whether you’re playing up front, in midfield or in defence, is to play simple. We didn’t do that in the first half and we found ourselves in trouble. They need to improve, and I’m talking about all four defenders.”
Meanwhile, midfielder Yohan Cabaye has praised Blanc for turning France’s fortunes around. The Newcastle star told BBC Sport: “He has instilled a group mentality and team spirit like you find in a club.” He added: “We have been winning matches and qualified directly for the Euros. Now the greater challenge is to perform well during the competition and to go as far as possible. It is important to do ourselves justice and be positive.”
Check out the Euro