Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughWhat can we expect of France in the summer? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough What can we expect of France in the summer? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

What can we expect of France in the summer?

Wednesday wasn’t only about one of the three favourites to win Euro 2012 losing at home in their first friendly of the year but also about France playing actually quite well. Analysing our results since the South African debacle and the passation de pouvoir from Domenech to Blanc, you’d have trouble weighing France’s talent and a prediction on how they will fare this summer remains a tough ask. You start with a home defeat to Belarus then go on to win in Bosnia. You win at places like Wembley and beat Brazil at home but need a late penalty to avoid defeat against, er, Bosnia.

What was quite refreshing to see was that all the players showed togetherness and unity. Admittedly, the players could be categorised into two groups: those who are trying to redeem themselves from the embarassment broadcasted worldwide at Kysna and the young/inexperienced (who aren’t necessarily young) ones who say that playing for their country is an honor except that they mean it.

I will skip the part of the goalkeeper as he was not only the custodian but also the captain – a matter that I will discuss at length later. I will start with the near perfect match of Lille’s Mathieu Debuchy (8/10 in L’Equipe). He had a hand in both goals, helped the attack adequately and defended astutely. I don’t think I’ve seen such a complete performance by our right-back since Willy Sagnol. Don’t get me wrong, Bacary Sagna is a good player (otherwise he wouldn’t be playing for Arsenal. Furthermore, his performance against Tottenham showed that he could be one to react when things aren’t going well on the pitch) but the scarcity of that particular position (especially when comparing it to the opposite flank) is impressive. All we had to challenge Sagna with up until now was Lyon’s very limited Anthony Réveillère. Sagna has been an everpresent for us (despite not being anywhere near as good as he is with Arsenal) because, plainly, he’s the best we have. Or should I say had. If Debuchy was to repeat Bremen’s stellar performance then he could start against England on June 11 in Donetsk.

The rest of the defence writes itself out really. Since taking over Blanc has trusted the Rami-Mexès pair and it looks very likely that these two will stay put until the understudies, Laurent Koscielny and Mamadou Sakho, get more experience. You could argue that the Arsenal man has to be a shoe-in for the starting line-up but Rami and Mexès have pretty much played every game together. It would be a mistake for Blanc to break the partnership just months before a major tournament. On the left, Abidal and Evra have a lot to prove to the non-Barcelona and Manchester United fans but their talent is beyond question. The latter especially needs to prove that he still cares for the shirt. He didn’t play on Wednesday but, luckily for him, Abidal wasn’t great.

You then have the midfield three which are Cabaye, Nasri and a question mark. Is Yann M’Vila good enough to hold such a crucial position that is defensive midfielder while playing for a bit part team who crumble each time they play two games a week (just like Aston Villa, Rennes shouldn’t play in Europe if they are to get knocked out at every single group stage, might as well give it to a club that cares)? Or do we give the shield role to Alou Diarra who has had an indifferent season at Marseille (even though he has been playing very well of late)? One option would be to call up Lyon’s very promising Maxime Gonalons but that could be a bit premature. The other two need no introduction. Cabaye is a tremendous box-to-box midfielder while Nasri is a proven quality attacking midfielder. The ex-Arsenal man also has the advantage of not playing week in week out for his club meaning that he’ll be fresh for the Euros. As for the understudies the less said about the tepid Yoann Gourcuff the better. There is also a question mark about bringing young Marvin Martin who is having a good season at a poor Sochaux side.

The left wing has an undisputable favourite: since publicly admitting that having sex with underaged call girls and being a bully in the dressing room isn’t the best way to go, Franck Ribéry has had a good attitude on the pitch. We all know his talent. If he is bothered he’ll be a nuisance to most defences.

The right wing is where it gets tricky. Valbuena played very well against Germany and he should be the favourite to start as that is his natural position. Other contestants are fellow Marseille striker Loïc Rémy (who didn’t make the squad due to injury) and PSG’s Jérémy Ménez, possibly the most infuriating player to watch (especially if you happen to support PSG). He is a great creator but can miss the easiest of passes (like overhitting a ball to Valbuena on Wednesday who would have had a great chance of making it 3-0).

Onto the strikers. Our undisputed no.1 is Benzema. He has scored some important goals for Real Madrid and is having a better season than Higuain which could win him Mourinho’s confidence, no mean feat. The question being who will be his understudy? Olivier Giroud was outstanding in Bremen in the aerial and technical department which showed that he wasn’t just a Ligue 1 striker in a good mood à la Gignac. (It is worth noting that Giroud was suffering from nausea when entering the Weserstadion on Wednesday evening. His first goal should have facilitated his digestion no doubt.) But does that put the Montpellier man as no.2 or do PSG strikers Guillaume Hoarau and Kévin Gameiro have their say? Lyon’s Batéfimbi Gomis should be considered even though Blanc only very rarely called him in the past.

Now onto the problem at hand: who will be the leader? Just like England, we have our doubts about the validity of a strong captain but not because he’s a suspected racist but rather because he doesn’t speak his mind enough. In Bremen, Hugo Lloris was named captain for the first time. An odd choice as you could hardly meet a man that is more shy than young Hugo (apart from the odd outburst with Lyon where he yelled “On se chie dessus!” translated as “we’re shitting ourselves” at half-time of a domestic game) and his game didn’t change one bit. Lloris is not a shouter and will certainly not be rallying his troops like Oliver Kahn or Jose Luis Chilavert could do back in the day. So who do we name captain? This team is very strong but lacks a strong DM as neither M’Vila nor Diarra fit the bill. It may come as a surprise after Kysna but Patrice Evra is club captain at Manchester United which gives him a massive weight in the decision. Everyone should have a second chance, don’t you think?

I have no doubt that every single player who graced the Weserstadion on Wednesday will be at the Euros (and a rather large portion will start against England) but we must wonder what to expect of this team? Laurent Blanc has been very negative since Zidane drew France in Group D along with England, Sweden and Ukraine saying that “getting out of the group would be a miracle”. Granted the Germans, who we haven’t lost to since 1937, did have a long winter break (8 out of the 11 players who started against France ply their trade in the Bundesliga) and generally do poorly in this particular fixture but nonetheless this win sends a clear message that, out of the chasing pack behind the three tenors that are Germany, Holland and Spain, we may well be in a good position to make an impression in this tournament (which is a mere preparation to the World Cup in Brazil). The quality of the players is good and the attitude seems to have stabilised.

The pale showing of 2008 and 2010 doesn’t look on the cards although you can’t rule us out of going on strike if we feel like it…

Philip Bargiel

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