Few would have predicted France’s re-emergence as a genuine contender for Euro 2012 after the debacle in South Africa two years ago.
Laurent Blanc had plenty of fires to put out after France’s disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign where the players opted to strike after Nicolas Anelka’s dismissal from the 23-man squad for a foul-mouthed tirade against then coach Raymond Domenech. He did so effectively, weeding out some of the bad influences and reinstating others such as Frank Ribery who remain crucial to the cause.
There is a feel-good factor around the squad once again, with players now contributing for the greater good, rather than for their own ends.
The likes of Montpellier striker Olivier Giroud, who scored on his full debut in a friendly victory over second favorites Germany earlier this year, and marauding right-back Mathieu Debuchy symbolize this fresh optimism.
Blanc, whose team lost just once in 10 qualifying games to top the group ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina, now relies on a younger set of players such as Adil Rami, Yann M’Vila and Yohan Cabaye who has had such an exceptional season with Newcastle United.
The impressive Mathieu Debuchy should get the nod at right-back after Bacary Sagna sustained a second broken leg of the season in May.
The captaincy has gone to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Some critics have suggested that the Lyon stopper is too quiet for the role, but the decision is again evidence of the shift away from big egos in favor of players genuinely committed to the cause.
- Best World Cup Result: Winners (1998)
- Best European Championship Result: Winners (1984 and 2000)
- Record Scorer: Thierry Henry (51 goals in 123 games from 1997 to 2010)
- Most Capped Player: Lilian Thuram (142 caps between 1994 and 2008)
- Coach: Laurent Blanc
- Captain: Hugo Lloris
23-man France Euro 2012 Squad:
Goalkeepers: Cedric 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 Reveillere (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), Jeremy Menez (Paris St Germain), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille).
The Coach: Laurent BlancThe former Bordeaux coach was faced with the tricky balancing act of rebuilding the team while qualifying for Euro 2012 at the same time. He achieved both objectives and the French Football Federation will surely be keen to extend his contract beyond the summer. Blanc was on the pitch as a player the last time France won the European Championships in 2000, helping Les Bleus defeat Italy in the final.
Player to Watch: Karim BenzemaThe Real Madrid striker has enjoyed a highly productive season at the Bernabeu. Mumblings of discontent about his position on the field can no longer be heard and Benzema has spearheaded the Madrid attack with aplomb, producing his best goal return in a Real shirt and frightening defenses with his pace and movement off the ball. There are suggestions that France are over-reliant on the former Lyon prodigy, who has said he would ‘die for’ Blanc.
Group Matches:Monday, June 11, 2012 v England (18:00 CET in Donetsk)
Friday, June 15, 2012 v Ukraine (20:45 CET in Donetsk)
Tuesday, June 19, 2012 v Sweden (20:45 CET in Kiev)