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Sunday, February 26, 2012

A change in fortunes for Les Bleus? EURO 2012 Preview : France

Will Blanc get to be part of another European triumph, only this time as a manager?


The French national team has gone through a really rough patch over the last six years. After their sensational run in the 2006 World Cup, marred by Zinedine Zidane's infamous headbutt in the final, they have struggled to put together a string of decent performances in any major tournament. Even qualifying for the 2010 World Cup proved to be a huge hassle, as they relied on a controversial Thierry Henry goal to get them there.

Their debacle at the 2010 World Cup led to the resignation of then manager, Raymond Domenech. The French FA decided to hire former Bordeaux manager, Laurent Blanc, with qualification for the European Championships as their primary target. Blanc took over during a tumultuous period in the nation's footballing history. He started with a completely clean slate by suspending all the members of the 2010 World Cup squad. Following this incident, which led to a 2-1 loss at the hands of Norway, Blanc's side have only been on the rise and have to be considered a dangerous force at this edition of the European Championships.


QUALIFYING CAMPAIGN


The French got off to a poor start in their qualifying campaign, as they lost at home to Belarus courtesy a late stunner from Sergei Kislyak. Blanc managed to get his squad's qualifying campaign back on track, as he welcomed back the likes of Karim Benzema, captain Alou Diarra and Yoann Gourcuff.

Their best performances of the qualifying campaign came when they hosted Romania and played away against Bosnia and Herzegovina. For their trip to Sarajevo, Blanc had called back Benzema and Diarra, and the return of these two influential stars proved to be crucial for Les Bleus to have success. Alou Diarra was at his destructive best in midfield, while Benzema scored the crucial opener in the tie with some masterful footwork. Romania had another problem to deal with, which came in the form of super-sub Yoann Gourcuff. The former Bordeaux attacker finished off the tie with a neat finish in the dying moments of the game.

These highlight moments came early in France's qualifying campaign, as their latter half proved to be a lot less breathtaking. The double over both Albania and Luxembourg helped Les Bleus finish just one point ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina to confirm their participation in Europe's most elite tournament this June.


WHAT IS IN STORE FOR LES BLEUS IN UKRAINE?


France will be fairly happy with the group that they have been drawn into. They've managed to avoid the likes of World and European Champions Spain, the extremely young and extraordinarily talented Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. They have been placed in a group with hosts Ukraine, Sweden and England.

This rivalry shall be renewed in Ukraine


Ukraine will surely be the battering team of this group, and France will need to ensure that they pick up the three points when they play the hosts at the Donbass Arena on the 15th of June. The tie against Sweden is one that will probably decide whether France go through to the quarter finals or not. If France do manage to meet Sweden on one of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's off-days, they will almost surely have booked their place in the knockout stages of EURO 2012.

The game against England will be of great importance, primarily because it could decide whether Blanc's side finishes first or second in the group. A second place finish will almost surely guarantee them a quarter final tryst with the Spanish. If Blanc is able to fathom the difficulty of beating this Spanish squad, he should ensure that his squad dispose of England, Sweden and Ukraine to ensure that they avoid the World champions.

PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR


Karim Benzema






The Real Madrid striker will surely be Laurent Blanc's most potent attacking threat. With a good sense of movement, great skill and a clinical finish, Benzema will be the one to deliver the goals for Les Bleus this summer. Benzema was France's joint top scorer in the qualifying campaign and has been in sensational form at  the club level, scoring 13 goals and providing 5 assists in 21 appearances.

Yann M'Vila






With France boasting a squad having the likes of Samir Nasri, Florent Malouda and Franck Ribery, it most be a real surprise to see M'Vila being talked about here. Blanc may have a huge repertoire of quality attackers, but this youngster will be a pivotal figure in the French defense this June. Being the workhorse that he is, M'Vila will be the ideal link between France's attack and defense. A good showing at EURO 2012 could also be the youngster's ticket to a bigger club.

Les Bleus have waited a long time for any form of success and their fans will be living in hope, hope that their renowned national team will return home with another European Championship. It would indeed be a joy to see this wonderful nation return to its glory days. Allez Les Bleus!




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