EURO 2012 Group D:Group of Promise:Blanc’s Dilemma, Manchester’s Prince and Munich’s star

Les Bleus have been drawn in  the ‘Group of  Promise ‘ with England, the co-hosts Ukraine and Sweden.France is the only reigning World Cup winner (1998) to win a European Championship (2000). France will become the country hosting the European Championship the most times: 3 out of 13 tournaments when they host Euro 2016 .

France’s performances moved from edgy against Iceland to largely dominant against Serbia and Estonia and solid against England coinciding with a slight change in tactics and personnel. Here’s a quick profile of the team:

FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking: 14

The shameful World Cup 2010 campaign led to thorough reconstruction in the whole French Football Federation. One of the “golden generation” heroes, Laurent Blanc, was appointed as national team head coach, after spending a couple of great seasons in charge of Bordeaux.

Blanc decided to build his team without any major influence from the World Cup 2010 squad members. When his team lost to Belarus in the first qualification game, critics started to predict yet another failure for French football but Blanc managed to qualify for Euro 2012.

With such a strong team selection, Les Bleus will surely show some solid performance in today’s game against Shevchenko’s Ukraine.

However, France is in a football crisis with both football clubs and the national team losing their rank in Europe. This crisis, which unfortunately may last long, hasn’t just started. The French football system didn’t produce enough talents to successfully support the generation change in their national team.

Blanc is regularly criticized on several topics: two of them are his alleged position on the “white Frenchmen” underrepresentation debate, and the team performance, considered as inappropriate to their status in the European football map. Despite the uprising contentious discussions about the ethnical diversity in France national football team, the vast majority of Blanc’s selection are still of other ethnical background.

Related link: http://sportsdutcom.blogspot.com/2011/06/football-is-just-game-and-not-politics.html

Statistics against

England:

England and France played out a 1-1 draw in the Group opener.The two teams also played their opening Euro 2004 Group B match against each other, putting together a thrilling performance with an exciting drama in the end. Despite a missed penalty by David Beckham, the Englishmen were in front thanks to Frank Lampard’s goal, when a sudden Zinedine Zidane brace deep inside the injury time rewarded the defending European Champions fully deserved 3 points.

Ukraine:

In the cycle of 29 matches since 1998 World Cup quarterfinals to Euro 2000 final (both against Italy) the French national team failed to score twice: both matches with Ukraine. So strong was the former Soviet Republic side by then, led by the young talent Andriy Shevchenko.

Sweden:

Sweden haven’t beaten France for 43 years. However they managed to make the French leave the European Championship in 1992, where Michel Platini’s side failed to win a single match, including the tournament opener against hosts Sweden. The match ended 1:1.     

HOW THEY QUALIFIED

France seems to be a much disciplined team. 4 goals conceded in 10 matches is the second best result in the qualification. Blanc was able to find some interesting players to find their place next to top class players like Evra, Ribery, Malouda and Benzema. New names as Olivier Giroud, the Ligue 1 topscorer and Yohan Cabaye, one of the most hard-working players in the English Premier League, are going to try their luck at their first major competition, after having spent successful seasons with their clubs.

GROUP D
GP GD PTS
1 France (Q) 10 6 3 1 11 21
2 Bosnia & Herzegovina 10 6 2 2 9 20
3 Romania 10 3 5 2 4 14
4 Belarus 10 3 4 3 1 13
5 Albania 10 2 3 5 -7 9
6 Luxembourg 10 1 1 8 -18 4

TOP SCORERS

3 – Karim Benzema, Yoann Gourcuff, Florent Malouda
2 – Loic Remy
1 – Yann M’Vila, Philippe Mexes, Samir Nasri, Anthony Reveillere

PAST RECORDS IN THE EUROS

1960
Fourth
1988
Did not qualify
1964
Did not qualify 1992
Group stage
1968
Did not qualify
1996
Semi-finals
1972
Did not qualify 2000
Winners
1976
Did not qualify 2004
Quarter-final
1980
Did not qualify 2008
Group stage
1984
Winners
2012
Qualified as group winners

GENTLEMAN | Laurent Blanc


Appointed in the wake of Raymond Domenech’s catastrophic reign, Blanc was charged with picking up the pieces of a France side in disarray following a dreadful World Cup 2010 campaign that had left the squad fractured.His coaching CV to that point might have been short, consisting of no more than two years with Girondins de Bordeaux, but it was also remarkably impressive as ‘Le President’ had led the Stade Chaban-Delmas club to the Ligue 1 title in his debut season and followed that up with a charge to the Champions League quarter-finals.Blanc is no stranger to the international game, either, having played fo France as a classy centre-back during their 1998 World Cup triumph, albeit missing the final due to a controversial suspension.

The France coach dropped the midfielder Yoann Gourcuff and the defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa when he named his 23-man squad for Euro 2012.The Lyon playmaker Gourcuff had a mediocre domestic season and failed to convince in a 3-2 friendly win against Iceland.

Les Bleus, who are unbeaten in their last 19 games, will start their campaign against England in Donetsk, Ukraine, on 11 June.

France’s Euro 2012 squad

Goalkeepers: Cédric 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 Réveillère (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), Jérémy Ménez (Paris St-Germain), Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille).

 THE CAPTAIN| Hugo Lloris

Honours

UEFA European Under-19 Championship: winner 2005

Coupe de France :winner 2012

Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year: 2009, 2010, 2012

Ligue 1 Team of the Year: 2009, 2010, 2012

Lloris is a three-time winner of the National Union of Professional Footballers (UNFP) Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year award.France coach Blanc showed his immense faith in goalkeeper Hugo Lloris by announcing he would be the captain of the national team for Euro 2012 back in February.

Though veterans such as Franck Ribery and Florent Malouda have more international experience, having played in the 2006 World Cup final, Lloris is the figurehead of a new era of the French game, which is why he has been chosen as the skipper ahead of  experience.

Olympique Lyonnais goalkeeper Hugo Lloris started all of France’s UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers, conceding just four goals in ten games, and is now firmly established not only as Les Bleus’ No1 but also as captain having been appointed four months before the finals in Poland and Ukraine.Already with over 30 caps to his name at the age of 25, the Olympique Lyonnais goalkeeper is regarded as one of the most promising young players in his position in Europe, having played a key role for les Gones since signing from hometown club Nice in 2008. 

He came up through the ranks at home-town club OGC Nice and kept goal in their run to the 2006 League Cup final.He made his Ligue 1 debut in March that year and replaced Damien Gregorini as the team’s No1 the following season, starting 37 out of 38 league games.

He won the 2005 UEFA European Under-19 Championship with France, playing in every match during the qualifying phase and the final tournament in Northern Ireland.After helping Nice to eighth place in a joint-best Ligue 1 defence in 2007/08, Lyon swooped in an €8.5m move to replace the long-serving Grégory Coupet.

He was voted goalkeeper of the year in Ligue 1 after an excellent debut campaign for Lyon, despite the club’s failure to add to their seven consecutive titles; kept clean sheets on his first two appearances for France, against Uruguay and Turkey.

He conceded only three goals in six UEFA Champions League group games in 2009/10, helping Lyon reach the semi-finals, and replaced Steve Mandanda as Les Bleus’ first choice in the latter part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.

He played in both domestic cup finals in the 2011/12 season, losing the League Cup showpiece to Olympique de Marseille but keeping a clean sheet as Lyon defeated US Quevilly in the Coupe de France decider.

 

THE STAR| Franck Ribéry

Honours

Turkish Cup: winner 2005

UEFA Intertoto Cup: winner 2005

Bundesliga: winner 2008, 2010

DFB-Pokal: winner 2008, 2010

DFB-Ligapokal: winner 2007

UNFP Young Player of the Year: winner 2006

Ligue 1 Goal of the Year: 2006

French Player of the Year: winner 2007, 2008

ESM Team of the Year:2008

German Footballer of the Year: 2008

UEFA Team of the Year: 2008

Picking out an individual star from the ranks of talented French players is no easy task, particularly as so many of these men have flattered to deceive on the international stage in recent times.

Ribery, in particular, is a player to have come under scrutiny domestically as he is perceived to be too individualistic and egotistical. Blanc has, however, stressed the importance of the Bayern Munich winger as a player who can turn a game in an instant.

Franck Ribery (29) scored a goal each in friendlies against Estonia,Serbia and Iceland – his first international goals in three years.The scar-faced Bayern star is the wide threat for Les Bleus, and tends to play on the right for them despite featuring on the other wing for his club.He is a real danger for any opponent.

When he was two years old, he and his family were involved in a car accident in his hometown, colliding with a truck.Ribéry suffered serious facial injuries that resulted in over one hundred stitches and left two long scars down the right side of his face.Prior to joining Stade Brestois in 2003, he worked as a construction worker with his father.Ribéry is a convert to Islam and, following his conversion, adopted the name Bilal Yusuf Mohammed.

A relatively late developer, the much-travelled Franck Ribéry has risen to prominence as one of Europe’s most crowd-pleasing footballers. A clever dribbler and playmaker, he sets up as many goals as he scores. He was prominent for France at the 2006 FIFA World Cup and EURO 2008.

A disjointed start to his club career concluded with half a season at Galatasaray AŞ, for whom he failed to register in the league but opened the scoring in the 2005 Turkish Cup final – a 5-1 win against Istanbul rivals Fenerbahçe SK.He made his major breakthrough at Olympique de Marseille but lost successive Coupe de France finals, in 2005 and 2006.

Uncapped until a fortnight before the 2006 FIFA World Cup, he made his first international start in France’s opener against Switzerland, then scored his maiden goal in the last-16 encounter with Spain and retained his place through to the final.He joined Bayern in 2007 for a club-record fee of €25m and inspired the Bavarians to a domestic double of Bundesliga and German Cup, winning the German footballer of the year crown as a result.

He badly injured his left ankle against Italy at EURO 2008 and was out of action again in autumn 2009 with tendonitis, but made his comeback in January and played a key role in Bayern’s Bundesliga and German Cup successes, scoring in the final of the latter competition against SV Werder Bremen.

He was suspended for the 2010 UEFA Champions League final – which Bayern lost to  Inter Milan – having been sent off in the semi-final first leg against Olympique Lyonnais, he endured more disappointment two years later on home soil when Jupp Heynckes’ team lost to Chelsea on penalties.

He featured for France in a disappointing World Cup campaign in South Africa and passed a half-century of caps during qualifying for EURO 2012.

Injury and loss of form have prevented the former Olympique de Marseille man from reaching his peak yet under Blanc, but if he can produce the kind of play for France that he does on an almost weekly basis for Bayern, les Bleus’ level will undoubtedly benefit.



LE PETIT PRINCE| Samir Nasri

Honours

UEFA European Under-17 Championship: winner 2004
UEFA Intertoto Cup :winner 2005

English Premier League : 2012

UNFP Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year : 2007

UNFP Ligue 1 Team of the Year : 2007

French Player of the Year : 2010

PFA Team of the Year: 2011

Samir Nasri’s countless assists have also helped the French national teams of any age. The French Player of the Year 2010 has already played 32 times fo Les Bleus, representing his country in various age categories. He had a dream to participate in his first World Cup two years ago, but Domenech decided to leave him at home. Now it is clear for the player and for the football world that this decision only helped Nasri to become one of the main profiles of the France national team at the Euro 2012 threshold.

The Manchester City midfielder scored the equaliser in the Euro 2012 Group D opener in Donetsk, an accurate strike from the edge of the box inside the near post, then ran towards the French press area with his finger over his lips and aimed some aggressive gestures at the watching journalists.Nasri explained after the game that the outburst was in response to criticism of his form by the football press in France, claiming it had upset him and his family.

 

 
Once tagged the ‘new Zinédine Zidane’, Samir Nasri (24) scored the decisive penalty that qualified France for EURO 2012.He also scored France’s first goal at this year’s European Championship.  A player of unique creative abilities and vision, Samir Nasri has been at the spotlight for so many years, that it seems like he has to retire soon. He is only 24. Nasri’s talent was so appreciated in his first professional club of Olympique de Marseille, that he played 25 matches in his first Ligue 1 season, being only 17 years old. It has only gone the right way for him since then, as Nasri became the key player in his club in 2007, was invited to join the English heavyweights Arsenal in 2008 and then Manchester City in 2011.

Versatile, light on his feet and technically gifted, he was a key contributor to Manchester City FC ending their 44-year wait for the English top-flight title in 2012.Like Zidane, Nasri was born in Marseille of Algerian ancestry.He joined his home-town club in 2000 and made his Ligue 1 debut on 12 September 2004 in a 2-0 defeat at FC Sochaux-Montbéliard.

The lad won the Ligue 1 young player of the year award in 2006/07 and, after playing for various France youth teams and scoring the winner against Spain to clinch the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in 2004.He received his first senior call-up while still in his teens and scored his first senior international goal on his third appearance – a crucial winner in a EURO 2008 qualifier against Georgia – but played just 28 minutes at the finals in Austria and Switzerland.

After four seasons with Marseille, Nasri moved to Arsenal FC in 2008 and scored on his Premier League debut versus West Bromwich Albion FC.He was overlooked by coach Raymond Domenech for the 2010 FIFA World Cup but was restored by Laurent Blanc for the start of EURO 2012 qualifying.

At club level he contributed a career-best ten league goals in the 2010/11 season.He became the fourth player to leave Arsenal for Manchester City since 2009 − the others being Gaël Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Touré − when he signed for the Citizens in August 2011 for a fee reportedly in the region of €27m.

This Euro is the best chance for him to prove that he is a star of Platini and Zidane caliber.


THE NEW MAKELELE |  Yann M’Vila 

Honours

Coupe Gambardella: winner 2008

UNFP Ligue 1 Team of the Year : 2011

Laurent Blanc faces a tough decision regarding whether to start Yann M’Vila against Ukraine or not.Against Ukraine, he will keep the same goalkeeper, defence and front three that drew 1-1 with England. The solitary change, if there is one, will occur in midfield.Yann M’Vila’s return to fitness has presented Blanc with a dilemma: does he stick with Yohan Cabaye, Florent Malouda and M’Vila’s direct replacement Alou Diarra, who excelled in the anchor role on Tuesday, or does he bring back one of the key figures from France’s qualifying campaign?


The heir apparent to Claude Makelele as France’s midfield anchorman, Yann M’Vila has been virtually an immovable presence in the team since Laurent Blanc assumed the reins, starting eight EURO 2012 qualifiers.The 21-year-old has been selected more than any other outfield player by Blanc, emerging as an efficient, reliable fulcrum. Not only does he hold the midfield intelligently, his crisp, accurate passing is crucial to the way Les Bleus attack. He has barely missed a game for Stade Rennais FC over the past three seasons.
 
Blanc likes to give this player both defensive and attacking responsibilities at the same time. M’Vila possesses many attributes to be considered as one of the best deep-lying playmakers in Europe.M’Vila has also great leadership abilities. He is surely going to captain the French national team sooner or later: at least he has done this in different French youth teams for many years and does so at Rennes from time to time. Let’s watch closer to this 22 year old player, who has already won 19 caps for France.
 
Born in Amiens to a football-playing father from Congo, he joined the Rennes youth academy in November 2004.He made steady progress in Rennes’s youth and amateur ranks and became a regular performer for France at every level from Under-16 to U21.He broke into the Rennes first team under coach Frédéric Antonetti in 2009/10, making his Ligue 1 debut on 15 August 2009 in a 1-1 draw at OGC Nice; went on to make 35 league appearances that campaign, all but two in the starting XI, and was on the 30-man shortlist for France’s 2010 FIFA World Cup squad.

M’Vila made his senior international debut on 11 August 2010 in friendly against Norway in Oslo and retained his place for the team’s opening three EURO 2012 qualifiers.He scored his first goal for Les Bleus during a 2-1 win in Albania on 2 September 2011.He started 37 of Rennes’s 2010/11 Ligue 1 games as the Brittany club challenged for the title before eventually dropping to sixth place.The midfielder selected in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year but just missed out to Mamadou Sakho for the Young Player of the Year prize.

Some may feel the inclusion or otherwise of one player is of limited significance. Yet such is the importance of this particular position and the potential influence of the player in question.

M’Vila’s versatility means he could even play with Diarra. Indeed, France’s best performance under Blanc came in Sarajevo when M’Vila, Diarra and Abou Diaby controlled the midfield against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Malouda’s place is therefore also under threat. At France’s training session, M’Vila looked like a man on a mission, striding purposefully on to the Kirsha pitch and performing the drills with intensity and focus under Blanc’s watchful gaze. But has he done enough to convince the coach?

This is a completely new team. I see Les Bleus reach the quarterfinals this summer.

This article was written by Nana Abiri (@NOKA88)

 

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