How they got here
France’s qualifying campaign started with much of the talk centred on off-field issues rather than who new boss Laurent Blanc would actually pick. Blanc started his reign without any of the 23-man squad that travelled to South Africa and an experimental side lost 2-1 to Norway in his first game in charge. Panic didn’t set in until France lost their opening qualifying game to Belarus 1-0 at the Stade de France with the away side’s only shot on target, Sergei Kislyak’s 86th minute goal stunned the 76,000 in attendance. Luckily Blanc would only need to wait four days before he got his first win as a national manager.
Late goals from Karim Benzema and Florent Malouda were enough to secure an excellent 2-0 away win against Bosnia, a victory that would spark a run of six wins in a row and the current run of 18 games without defeat. The group would remain close until the end and Blanc’s men nearly had to go through the play-off system until in the 78th minute of their final match against Bosnia when Samir Nasri won and scored the equalising penalty. France would hold on and secure qualification.
Away from the qualification matches France have impressed most in their recent friendlies. Wins against England, Brazil and Germany have shown that Blanc’s side are well equipped for an assault on Group D.
Why they'll win
At the moment it seems that many are quick to write off France’s chances in this competition. Some may look back at France’s dreadful World Cup campaign in 2010 under Raymond Domenech and underestimate les Bleus’ chances as a result. Laurent Blanc has rejuvenated the squad and his list of pre-selected players is a talented pool capable of representing their country on the big stage. The tactical versatility of the squad is also strong, something which Blanc will be able to utilise during the tournament. This French side contains a good mix of youth and experience with a number of players plying their trade abroad for a variety of different teams.
France defeated Ukraine away last year 4-1 albeit in a friendly match. The side also boast friendly wins against Brazil and England over the course of the past year and a half and will be looking to continue this when it comes to Euro 2012, especially against group favourites England.
Why they won't win
It was always likely to be an uphill struggle for France with regards to the group stages. Selected from pot four in a group with England, Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine, the group stages of the competition will be a tough test for Laurent Blanc’s side.
In qualifying for the competition, France were taken to the wire by Bosnia & Herzegovina but were only defeated once. France did, at times, struggle to kill games off and were unable to take three points from Belarus during the qualifying stages in two attempts. This is also something which has been evident in the friendly matches with the exception of the 4-1 defeat of Ukraine. The side do have the firepower and tactical potential but whether or not this carries through the competition remains to be seen. The recent rise in awareness of Ligue 1 ensures that the players will have heavy expectations weighing on their shoulders, especially with a number of the selected players being linked with moves away from their current clubs. The French players must ensure focus if they are to achieve anything from Euro 2012.
We've seen before
Franck Ribéry- One of Laurent Blanc's most recognised names but a player that has been unable to replicate his 2006 World Cup form for les Bleus. The 29-year old has been in sparkling form at times this season for Bayern Munich but French football fans are growing impatient to again see the best from the talented wide man.
Lightning pace, a wide array of delightful skills, a combination of fantastic vision, sublime skills and an unnerving awareness of his teammates when in form. Ribéry has rarely demonstrated his considerable talents since France's surprisingly successful outing in Germany six years ago. The man who was expected by many to become France's most important player following the retirement of Zinedine Zidane has never quite lived up to that expectation. The former Marseille man is likely to start for les Bleus given his strong showing for Bayern this year and if Blanc has serious designs on winning the tournament then Ribéry will play an important part.
One of few survivors from the South Africa 2010 debacle, he must finally deliver on his unfulfilled potential given this chance to shine in Ukraine and Poland. Having recently scored his first international goal in three years in the recent friendly with Iceland, Ribéry looks like he is primed to make an impact as he reaches what should be the peak years of his career. With an in-form Karim Benzema and predatory Olivier Giroud in France's squad, the Bayern man has the opportunity to provide the ammunition for one of Blanc's hitmen to fire les Bleus to glory in a similar way to how he supplies Mario Gomez at club level.
Olivier Giroud- Despite the surprise inclusion of Montpellier captain Mapou Yanga Mbiwa in the provisional squad, Giroud’s maiden international tournament is one of the most exciting aspects of France’s prospective campaign. A predator in the same mould as Jean-Pierre Papin, David Trezeguet and Thierry Henry, Giroud is a serial goal-scorer who could go on to be France’s talismanic striker of the next decade.
Only 25 and this season’s joint-top goal-scorer in Ligue 1 with 21 goals, la Paillade’s demon hit-man has wreaked havoc against almost every defence that has faced him this season. A complete striker, able to score complex or simple goals with alarming consistency, lay them on for his teammates, hold the ball up and bring others into the game, he gives France an extra dimension that they lack with only Karim Benzema as the main attacking focal point.
An unknown quantity still to many outside of France, this will be a rare opportunity to potentially see the birth of a new superstar with the former Tours striker set for primetime amidst rumours of a summer transfer to either the Premier League or German giants Bayern Munich. Playing second tier football just three years ago, Giroud is now one of France’s hottest footballing properties and if he can translate his domestic form onto the international stage this summer then he will be one of the players of the tournament. Be excited, be very excited.
How they will play
During the qualifying campaign and the recent friendlies Blanc has stuck mainly to playing 4-2-3-1 – there was a brief flirtation with two upfront against the United States but the duo of Benzema and Kevin Gameiro never looked comfortable together and Blanc quickly resorted back to the trusted loan front-man.
When it comes to France’s opening game against England in Donetsk the holding midfielders and defence seem to pick themselves, the forward line however has the flexibility to change right up until the 11th of June.
Lyon’s Hugo Lloris will start in goal, recently voted France’s best goalkeeper for this season, this comes as no surprise. In front of him centre-backs Adil Rami and Philippe Mexes formed an excellent partnership during the qualifying campaign and this is unlikely to be broken up before the tournament. Bacary Sagna’s unfortunate leg-break will lead to the excellent Mathieu Debuchy of Lille grabbing his opportunity with both hands and provides a constant threat down the right flank. The 26-year old impressed in the 2-1 win over Germany and could be a star this summer. Manchester United’s captain Patrice Evra will start on the left.
The midfield will be anchored by Newcastle United’s Yohan Cabaye and imperious Yann M’Vila. The Rennes midfielder has not enjoyed the best domestic campaign but for France he has been one of the first names on Blanc’s teamsheet.
Ahead of this duo will likely be an attacking quartet of Jeremy Menez, Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema. Menez has been superb for Paris Saint-Germain in their run to Champions League qualification, his direct running style and ability to pull off magical pieces of skill could be critical.
Questions remain over the other three. Recently their club form has always been better than on the international stage and if France are to succeed Blanc will need to bring the best out of this talented trio.
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