Despite the farce of the last World Cup and an unimpressive season for French football, France and their new manager look set to be in with a shot of taking the cup home...
Arsenal Target Olivier Giroud Makes France Dark Horses For Euro 2012
When Samir Nasri equalised from the spot against Bosnia last October to secure qualification for Euro 2012, the French were looking a far cry from the debacle squad of two years ago. When France were preparing for the World Cup in South Africa they horrendously underwhelmed by only scoring a single goal and picking up a solitary point. Cue a strike by the team refusing to train and general anarchy in French football.
In the process, then Chelsea striker and ever-surly journeyman Nicolas Anelka was sent home after an argument during the defeat against Mexico with local mentalist and tarot card reading manager Raymond Domenech. England’s woes at the World Cup couldn’t hold a light to the French’s demise; it was possibly the most dramatic fall from grace ever seen in international football. Now, the French are, in some eyes, serious contenders for the next international tournament, Euro 2012. So how is this possible?
Domenech was duly replaced by former international and Manchester United defender Laurent Blanc who set about regaining face for his country. Blanc had only previously managed Bordeaux, but during his time there, he was named French manager of the year, led Bordeaux to a French record for consecutive wins, eleven, and did the league and cup double in 2009.
Seemingly proved at the highest level, he was thrust into international management as the man who the people needed to restore French pride. His first step was to suspend the whole squad that played at the World Cup – a bold move considering he hadn’t managed the majority of players.
Blanc has been keen to erase the memories of recent tournaments and the international side finally have a manager who commands the players’ respect.
While Blanc didn’t exactly get off to a promising start, losing 2-1 to Norway in a friendly and getting beat 1-0 at home to Belarus in his first competitive match, they have remained unbeaten since and have turned over England, Brazil and Germany on their road to recovery. In June of 2011, they beat both of the hosts of Euro 2012, Ukraine and Poland, 4-1 and 1-0 respectively in friendlies. Blanc has been keen to erase the memories of recent tournaments and the international side finally have a manager who commands the players’ respect.
As things picked up on the international side, French club sides struggled. The six teams who qualified for European competitions all disappointed, particularly Lyon who were knocked out of the Champions League by Cypriot featherweights APOEL Nicosia. Domestically, the 2011-12 season saw Montpelier end up as league winners, a feat no one predicted. The league giants Paris St. Germain were early favourites after being taken over by the Qatar Investment Authority and in the process became one of the world’s richest clubs, but early season struggles saw them finish in 2nd and were knocked out in the group stage of the Europa League.
Montpellier’s Arsenal target Olivier Giroud
Montpellier’s success was led by a man hotly tipped to be moving on from France next season, striker Olivier Giroud. He now has four international caps under his belt and got his first international goal in a 2-1 win over a full strength Germany in a friendly. Giroud ended up with 21 goals in 37 games for Montpelier and it is these goals that not only helped Montpellier to their unlikely title, but that will guarantee him a seat on the plane to the Euro’s. Blanc has in fact indicated he may choose to pair Giroud with Benzema for the Euro’s, and in the process abandon the 4-2-3-1 formation he has adopted throughout qualification.
A settled defence
While France will be looking for Giroud and Benzema for goals up top, at the back, they are now much more of a solid defensive unit. Despite Sagna being ruled out, a likely back four of Debuchy, Mexes, Rami and Evra in front of goalkeeping giant and captain Hugo Lloris will see them in good stead as they match up against England in the first group game. As a survivor of the circus squad from 2010, Manchester United captain Patrice Evra will particularly want to have a big summer to appease his prior showing in South Africa.
France are rightly tipped by many as the dark horses. The successes in 1998 and 2000 are a thing of the past now and this French squad will have to earn success through graft and character
Newcastle’s French contingent
Familiar faces to fans of the Premier League include adopted-Geordie pair Yohan Cabaye and wildcard Hatem Ben Arfa. While it is unclear whether either of these players will feature in the first eleven, they represent the yin and yang of football. Cabaye offers a calmness in possession and can change the tempo of the game either by holding onto the ball and spreading the play, or hitting a diagonal ball 45 yards to open up a defence. As has been seen this season, Ben Arfa can turn a game on its head with his bag of tricks and presents a more direct style of football that is notoriously difficult to defend against.
Strength in depth
Elsewhere in the side is talented defensive Rennes midfielder Yann M’Vila. Barring an Inspector Clouseau-esque tournament showing, he will almost certainly be joining a top club with Arsenal his most likely destination. At 21 years old, his best years are ahead of him and is the sort of player Wenger could mould into the next Vieira. The French also have a vast array of midfield talent that will not go unnoticed such as Ribery, Nasri and Gourcuff that will guarantee a tortuous match for any defender going up against their pace and typical French style.
France are rightly tipped by many as the dark horses. The successes in 1998 and 2000 are a thing of the past now and this French squad will have to earn success through graft and character, traits that Blanc has been keen to install into his side. If they do end up going on to win the whole shebang, it will be a remarkable achievement, considering the development process of this particular French side is still in its infancy. At most betting companies placing them around the 12/1 mark, they are a very decent shout for an outside bet.
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