Euro 2012 Preview: France
Former European champions France are back hoping to claim their third championship and forget about their torrid time in South Africa. After the Raymond Domenech era of poor play and ridiculous interviews, Laurent Blanc was named as manager with two missions: To win more games and to play better football.
The first one was achieved, although only the championships will tell if Blanc will be a successful manager. The second one is more debatable. For sure, Blanc’s football is more pleasing on the eye than Domenech but he can still be classed as a defensively minded manager, often opting with two defensive midfielders, the feature that made Domenech so unpopular. There’s more fluidity in the French game, mostly thanks to Mexes & M’Vila but it’s still vastly unproductive in the last 30 yards.
How Did They Qualify?
France were drawn in Group D alongside Bosnia & Herzegovina, Romania, Belarus, Albania and Luxembourg, a group which some would say guaranteed them an automatic spot at the tournament. However, it did not start to plan. A 1-0 home loss to Belarus at the Stade de France was not the start Blanc was looking for. It did not help by having some members of the WC 2010 squad unavailable for the game for various reasons.
A four game unbeaten run, 2-0 against Bosnia, Romania, and two games against Luxembourg gave them a healthy lead at the top of the table. A 1-1 draw against Belarus, 2-1 win against Albania, and a draw against Romania gave them the points they needed. A 3-0 win against Albania and a 1-1 draw in the final home game against Bosnia gave them the one point gap that won their qualification group and saving their blushes of having to qualify for another tournament through the play-offs.
Laurent Blanc took over France in July 2010 and immediately started to make changes. Blanc’s first move as manager was to suspend all 23 players from the 2010 World Cup squad from his first game, both to punish them after the South Africa fiasco and to try new players. After that, he sometimes targeted key players (Benzema, Nasri) about their lack of performance to push them to play better. He still appears to be widely respected by the squad, a major difference with Domenech. In his first game as manager, France lost 2-1 to Norway in Oslo. However, Blanc’s team soon managed to top their Euro 2012 qualifying group and achieve friendly wins, such as a 2–1 over England and a 1–0 over Brazil.
Karim Benzema – 24 – Forward
The Real Madrid striker has been on fine form since Jose Mourinho brought him into the team when Higuain was injured. With 31 goals in 74 games at club level and joint top scorer for France in the qualifying campaign, his team will be looking to him to score those vital goals.
Hugo Lloris – 24 – Goalkeeper
Having represented France at three different youth levels before being capped at full international level, he has the potential to become another great French keeper alongside Fabien Barthez and Gregory Coupet. The Lyon goalie is their undoubted number one and his performances have been nothing short of remarkable.
Samir Nasri – 24 – Midfielder
Jeremy Menez & Franck Ribery are skilled players but they won’t pass the ball until they’re in the box and can claim an assist. Nasri is the only player who can dictate the play with a simple & quick passing game. He’s done it before when he can be bothered but for me that doesn’t happen often enough. Blanc has a strange relation with him: passing him the captain’s armband for a game, criticizing his lack of commitment in another.
Philippe Mexes – 29 – Central Defender
Blanc is a big fan and he needs Mexes to recreate the type of skilled/strong partnership he formed with Marcel Desailly back in France’s heyday. In a defence of reliable but unspectacular players, he’s the only talented man.
Reveillere Rami Mexes Debuchy
Menez Nasri Ribery
How Far Can They Go?
French football has had a torrid time in recent years, but with Blanc at the helm and a good mix of experience and youth, they’ll get to the quarter finals but anything further than that is asking too much.