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All things considered, Laurent Blanc’s France find themselves in a similar position to the Azzurri heading into the 2012 European Championships. Both sides are headed by a dynamic coach with exciting ideas, neither are expected to pull any trees up this summer, both are rebuilding in the fallout of a golden generation and both have seen their integrity rocked by scandal in recent times.

Calcio scommesse continues to rock Italian football with Stefano Mauri and Antonio Conte among the latest figures to come under scrutiny, and France’s reputation hasn’t been the same since 2011’s “dual-citizenship quota” argument. Blanc came out of the situation looking particularly bad, with the likes of Lilian Thuram and Patrick Vieira quick to jump at the coach’s throat. In truth, the “scandal” owed as much to unbalanced journalism and selective quoting as it did the French Football Federation’s ignorance and naivety. Blanc was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, but the issue stills casts a shadow.

The argument, grouped with a somewhat uninspiring changing-of-the-guard in playing personnel and an abysmal performance at the 2010 World Cup, has caused serious harm to French football’s reputation. In reality, however, France have plenty of reasons to be optimistic ahead of their tournament opener. This isn’t the side of 1998, but they’re a lot better than you think.

Les Bleus are a bit further along their recovery curve than Italy. While the days of Cannavaro, Nesta and Del Piero are still fresh in the memory, the Zidane/Deschamps/Desailly era is long gone. This France side isn’t exactly crammed with big name superstars and outstanding individuals, but there are few weak links and their depth is impressive.

Hugo Lloris has deservedly cultivated a reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Lyon’s number one will captain his country in Poland and the Ukraine, and will likely play behind a backline of Patrice Evra, Adil Rami, Philippe Mexes and Mathieu Debuchy. Les Bleus are extremely well covered at full-back: Evra and Debuchy are among Europe’s best, and back-ups Gael Clichy and Anthony Reveillere are no slouches either. It’s at centre-back where things start to get worrying.

Blanc opted to take just three CBs to the Euros (Ami, Mexes and Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny), a decision which could backfire should injuries and suspension take hold. Marseille’s Alou Diarra will likely deputise in case of emergency, but the holding midfielder is a shaky CB option at best, making Blanc’s decision to leave Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Younes Kaboul (fresh off an outstanding season for Tottenham) at home all the more confusing.

Still, France possess plenty of talent further up the pitch. Diarra will likely hold behind Florent Malouda and Yohan Cabaye. Revered in his homeland, Newcastle man Cabaye is a busy midfielder who possesses a rare blend of grit, athleticism and class on the ball. Just ahead of them, on the wings, are Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery. Nasri can be sublime and awful in equal measure, but Bayern Munich’s Ribery is fresh off a resurgent season that saw him net a career-best 26 goals as well as 16 assists. He is France’s biggest name, and, one his day, one of the most talented plays in the world.

Karim Benzema will surely lead the charge. The Real Madrid man has grown immensely as a player in the past 18 months and his well-rounded set of attributes and improved eye for goal saw him strike 32 times for Mourinho’s men last season despite not being the side’s main attacking outlet. Benzema scored twice in France’s last warm-up match against Estonia and looks a good bet to for the Golden Boot (provided his country stay in the competition long enough).


How they will play is anyone’s guess. Blanc likes to adopt a possession-based game but employs a lot of different strategies to keep his foes guessing. This suggests a lack of consistency, but that just isn’t the case. France are unbeaten in 21: they will face far stronger opponents than Estonia and Iceland at the Euros, but Blanc’s tinkering is clearly working.

They have the strength in depth to pull it off too. Mathieu Valbuena, Hatem Ben Arfa, Jeremy Menez and Olivier Giroud are among those likely to be left on the bench, and Yann M’Vila is one of the most sought-after young midfielders in Europe. Look for him to be a solidifying factor if he can shake-off his pre-tournament injury niggles.

England, Sweden and the Ukraine will provide France’s Group D opposition. It’s a draw that could’ve been kinder to Les Bleus, but not by much. Host nations should never be counted out and neither should a side spearheaded by the mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but anyone would fancy Blanc’s functional side to do well against the Ukraine and Sweden.

A potential quarter-final showdown with either Spain or Italy awaits Les Bleus if they make it out of Group D. They should progress to the second round relatively comfortably, but a tough QF draw could see them bow out of the tournament prematurely. Blanc’s side are solid rather than spectacular, but they’re a million miles from the shambolic side of 2010. They might not be among the favourites, but it’d be foolish to count them out completely.

Update: Monday night saw Roy Hodgson’s injury-stricken England take an early lead against Les Bleus in the group opener from a Joleon Lescott header with Samir Nasri responding for France six minutes before the interval. With no further goals scored France-England ended all even at 1-1. Next up for France are hosts Ukraine currently atop Group D after defending AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the rest of the flying Swedes by a score of 2-1.

Andrew Murray

Scottish football writer with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for all things calcio. Visit for more from Andrew.

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