Put that in comparison with the amazing turnaround they pulled off at the Euro 2000 when the Italians were already singing their victory song and Wiltord scored out of nowhere to eventually earn France the win late. That is the France we all want to see, whether you support them or not, because it is for the good of the sport and the entertainment.
Luckily enough, a big part of the problem has been eliminated when Mr. Domenech was replaced by the World Cup ‘98 winner Laurent Blanc. His mission was clear: restore order and rebuild the team. He took charge of the dispirited national team with his no-nonsense attitude and immediately gained the support of all the players. His ex-player status probably helped. It was not an easy task, especially with other internal issues he had to deal with, including within the federation, but he managed to lead the team to the top of their qualifying group and is now building them up to a classic entry into the Euro: France v England.
Since there is no longer a Zidane to count on, France now puts a lot of their hope on two key players: Ribery and Benzema. Both of which had huge seasons in their respective clubs and made the difference when it counted. Ribery will be the main animation up front with his pace, sneaky dribbling, and killer passes. If he repeats his performance of the 2006 World Cup, France will be in with a good chance. Karim on his side will be asked to just sink in every chance he gets, kind of like at Madrid. And that is what he has been doing, which is why he has been preferred over Higuain recently.
Blanc has been pushing for a very attacking football and the most likely formation will be the 4-2-3-1 they have been playing most recently. Here is a look at some of the players that will be lined up and how they are likely to operate.
Lloris, Mandanda, Carrasso.
Lloris has been named best goalkeeper in the French league, three out of the last four years, and he has been captaining both his Lyon side as well as the French team recently. So there are no doubts in this department with Lloris the clear first choice and Mandanda his loyal backup. It has been like this for a while now, but the healthy competition between these two has been pushing them to the top level they are at today.
Clichy, Debuchy, Evra, Koscielny, Mexes, Rami, Reveillere.
The central link Mexes/Rami has been in tune, but they are error prone. Even with a 21-match unbeaten run and a clean sheet in their last game against Estonia, this is a key concern for Blanc who was a composed sweeper back in his days. Blanc wants to play simple soccer at the back and could rely on in-form Arsenal central defender Koscielny who is making his debut with the national team. This could actually be as early as the France v England game where Laurent’s experience in the Premier league could prove invaluable, but everyone is wondering what the Rami/Koscielny understanding is going to be like.
At full back we have another newbie (Debuchy) who has benefited from the unfortunate leg break of Sagna just before the competition. His game against Germany was the turning point in his career where he showed the world that he not only defends really well, but can provide attacking options (two assists and a Man of The Match award). The other full back is the controversial, but well established Evra who will be closely backed up by Clichy who is eagerly waiting for his chance.
Cabaye, Diarra, M’vila, Malouda, Martin, Matuidi, Nasri, Ribery, Valbuena
It is a mix of old guard and new faces in the midfield. Ribery finally showing some of his Bayern form for France looks set to start ahead of Malouda and on the right it looks like pacy Valbuena will start with in form Arfa coming on as a impact substitute. Nasri will continue to get the support of the coach, but the fans won’t take many more of his lackluster performances. Blanc also has a few issues in the holding midfield area with Diarra, Matuidi and M’vila all out injured at the moment which mean one of this year’s best buy in the Premier League, Cabaye will probably start there instead of his more offensive role.
Ben Arfa, Benzema, Girou, Menez
Benzema is a no brainer to start, but France’s other forwards are just as hot at the moment. Ben Arfa came back from that horrific leg injury and had a stellar season with Newcastle. He can inspire the team and make the difference with just one gesture to create opportunities...the same type as Anelka, without the attitude. As far as Giroud is concerned, he has been the revelation of the year in League 1 and it is no wonder he is a favorite of Wenger. His stats speak for themselves: 36 games, 21 goals, 9 assists. The 6’3” target man is good in the air, but he is also very mobile and has good ability with the ball. Either on his own or paired up, he will be one to watch.
France’s strength is going forwards. They are becoming more and more dangerous as they get closer to their first game against England. Just looking at their last game against Estonia, Blanc will be reassured by their attacking spirit and the quick passing soccer they were playing. Sure, it was Estonia and it is no Spanish tiki-taka, but they are getting there and it actually a pleasure to watch. The pace and tricks of Ribery and Valbuena combined with the clinical finish of Mourinho’s prodigé up front will definitely cause some havoc in the opposing defensive lines.
That said, M’vila’s injury will add even more complications to France’s central defensive frailties which makes it their weakest link so far. Their best hope is to see the back pair gel quickly and start playing simple football while at the same time hoping for a quick recovery of Arsenal target M’vila.
France squad for EURO 2012:
Goalkeepers: Cedric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille).
Defenders: Gaël Clichy (Manchester City), Mathieu Debuchy (Lille), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Philippe Mexes (Milan), Adil Rami (Valencia), Anthony Reveillere (Lyon).
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle), Alou Diarra (Marseille), Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Marvin Martin (Sochaux), Blaise Matuidi (Paris St Germain), Yann M'vila (Rennes), Samir Nasri (Manchester City).
Forwards: Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Olivier Giroud (Montpellier), Jeremy Menez (Paris St Germain), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille).