Continuing on the look at the contenders for Euro 2012, it’s France today.
Laurent Blanc’s side will be hoping this tournament kick-starts a successful four years leading up to Euro 2016 which will be held in France. The former holders of both the European Championship and World Cup at the same time goes into this tournament on the back of a disastrous outing at South Africa 2010. Mutiny was the case when several senior players showed their disapproval of Raymond Domenech’s handling of the team. Having dealt those players with fines and bans, Blanc will feel that his current crop are ready to hit the heights once again.
A good crop of players have emerged since and the squad is filled with plenty of them with Patrice Evra, Florent Malouda and Frank Ribery among those remained who went to Africa 2 years ago. There’s a a renewed sense of harmony within the squad now and that’s never a bad thing. Blanc has instilled among the team the fighting spirit once again. Unbeaten in their last 20 games, as was seen in their last friendly match win over Serbia, France have in them players who are capable match winners.
At the top of the pile is Karim Benzema, the striker had a revival season in La Liga scoring 32 goals and providing almost half as many assists after a less than impressive start to his Real Madrid career. Having him back in form is great news for France. Benzema is someone I hold in high regards and one whom always reminds me of a certain great No. 9, Ronaldo. His posture and running style, coupled with his technique, it is not hard to see the similarity. Even if he is not used, Blanc could call on the service of Olivier Giroud who helped his Montpellier side to the League 1 title in France and thus frustrating moneybags PSG in doing so.
They are supported by the creative cast of Ribery, Samir Nasri, Marvin Martin, Jeremy Menez, Matthieu Valbuena and Hatem Ben Arfa. All of whom makes the absence of Yoann Gourcuff less apparent. Not many teams could call upon the creative abilities from so many different players. What it gives France is options. Any few of those players could be out of form or struggle in a game and yet, a few substitution later and it would still work out.
The main character in those to assume the playmaker role, a lot of eyes will be on Nasri. Now, you know my dislike of him for his attitude since moving away from Arsenal but I’m trying real hard to not be biased here. A stop start season at Manchester City culminated in his first Premier League title, a shot of confidence to bring to the Euros. Blanc seemed to prefer Nasri as his central attacking route and that entirely suits with the latter as well. No one really doubts his talent but it’s the consistency that we all deride him with. A good showing in this tournament and even City might be a club too small for him.
In midfield, Yann M’Vila is the choice for the lone defensive midfield role but the Rennes man got injured in the same match against Serbia and now only looks likely to return in time for the second match against host nation, Ukraine. In his stead, Alou Diarra is the replacement with Yohan Cabaye being given the all important role of being the link man in midfield. Someone who goes from box-to-box in support of Diarra in defending as well as Nasri in attack.
In defence, Blanc prefers the Lille-Valencia-Milan-United combination in Debuchy, Rami, Mexes and Evra. That line-up sees Arsenal favourite and one of the most consistent player in the Premier League last season in Laurent Koscielny missing out on a starting place. Blanc is taking a big risk by selecting only 3 centre backs to take to the Euros. Anything more than two injuries to those 3 or even suspensions and the former central defender himself will have a headache on selection.
Behind all of them is the team captain and Lyon custodian, Hugo Lloris. Just like Manuel Neuer of Germany, Lloris also played in his first major tournament at South Africa. Somewhat strange that no big clubs have come in for him yet. No disrespect to Lyon but given his talent and quality, Lloris could do very well in a “bigger” club. That said, the number of good young keepers currently attached to big clubs around Europe probably put paid to any suitors coming in for him.
Is it too soon for this team to succeed? Definitely there’s quality in the individuals within the squad but not a lot with experience at major tournaments. Blanc himself was a player that won the World Cup and he could impart some of that knowledge to his fledglings but nothing compared what the players themselves could experience. The target for Blanc would not be to win the tournament but rather gear themselves towards the next Euros in their home country or the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
France will challenge but lifting the trophy looks a step too far.
Prediction : Semifinalist