Inside Track: France
Sunday, 10 June, 2012
France face England in Donetsk with a 21-match unbeaten run to protect.
How they got to Euro 2012
Despite an early defeat to Belarus, France controlled their qualifying group after an impressive 2-0 away win at Bosnia-Herzegovina. They still needed a draw in the final home qualifier against Bosnia to finish top, and looked twitchy after Edin Dzeko’s early strike. But Samir Nasri’s penalty settled their nerves and continued an impressive unbeaten run.
France are unbeaten in 21 games and more impressive than that, have beaten England, Brazil and Germany (away) in recent friendlies. The Germany win was achieved without Karim Benzema up front, and that has given the team confidence in themselves.
In the dugout
Laurent Blanc won the French title in his first job with Bordeaux in 2009, and he has brought through a new, younger group of players centred on the 1987 generation of Clairefontaine graduates, like Benzema and Nasri. He has tried to introduce a fast passing game to the team, but as one critic said, “it’s tiki without the taka”. France’s lack of identifiable style of play has caused some debate in the country even if results are exemplary.
Benzema and Frank Ribery are the only two players who are regulars at top clubs this season, and more than anyone, they hold the key to France’s results. Benzema has been in top form for Real Madrid and France, though Ribery is a more complicated case: brilliant at Bayern, he has struggled for France. He is desperate to perform to restore his place in the French public’s affections.
England beat France in the group stages on their way to winning the 1966 World Cup and did the same in 1982 as both sides progressed in Spain. More recently, two late Zinedine Zidane goals helped France come from behind to win 2-1 at Euro 2004 (before one penalty which he scored, Zidane was actually sick on the pitch). In November 2010, France beat England 2-1 at Wembley, which was the last time they met.
Getting out of the group would be the minimum requirement and then, if Spain can be avoided in the next round, a place in the semi-finals would go some way to winning back public favour.
Inside track - Darren Tulett, presenter, Al-Jazeera Sport France
The French public are not yet back on board with the team since the disaster of the 2010 World Cup but Les Bleus have at least won the right to wait for a verdict. France have come a long way in two years, and a lot of that is down to Blanc, his image and the work he has done, and the new faces he has brought in who don't carry the stain of South Africa.
Any other business
One of Blanc’s biggest decisions was who to pick as captain. After trialling the likes of Alou Diarra, Philippe Mexes, Eric Abidal and Florent Malouda, he handed the armband to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Seen as mild-mannered and maybe even too nice, Lloris countered: “You don't know what I'm like in the dressing-room. Whether I'm captain or not, I'm not afraid to speak out.”
1 Hugo Lloris, 16 Steve Mandanda, 23 Cédric Carrasso
2 Mathieu Debuchy, 3 Patrice Evra, 4 Adil Rami, 5 Philippe Mexès, 13 Anthony Réveillère, 21 Laurent Koscielny, 22 Gaël Clichy
6 Yohan Cabaye, 7 Franck Ribéry, 8 Mathieu Valbuena, 11 Samir Nasri, 12 Blaise Matuidi, 14 Jérémy Ménez, 15 Florent Malouda, 17 Yann M'Vila, 18 Alou Diarra, 19 Marvin Martin, 20 Hatem Ben Arfa
9 Olivier Giroud, 10 Karim Benzema
England's meeting with France in Donetsk at 5pm (BST) on Monday 11 June will be live on ITV1.