When describing the French national football team, the term “underdog” would normally be irrelevant. The great footballing nation has a world cup title and two European Championships to its name, but Les Bleus will head to Ukraine this summer free from the weight of expectation, after a notoriously poor World Cup performance.
The 2010 World Cup saw the French side crash and burn in more ways than one. With Laurent Blanc now at the helm of the team, and a big redraft of the squad list, the underdog tag on the French cockerel may turn out to be one perfectly designed to set up an unexpected push for the championship.
After a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Belarus on the opening day of Euro 2012 qualification, the French support must have feared for the worst for the remainder of their international fixture list. However, Laurent Blanc has since seen his side embark on a 18 match unbeaten run. His experimental side has all the talent, and much less of the ego responsible for the national side’s infamous World Cup implosion.
This can be seen in the stats chalked up during this impressive run; since Domenech lost all control of his side in South Africa, France have beaten England, Brazil and Germany in friendly matches, and qualified for the European Championships conceding just four goals in their 10 fixtures along the way.
The defensive rock of Philippe Mexes and Adil Rami will be at the core of any French Euro challenge come June and July. They have formed a formidable centre back pairing; with Valencia man Rami providing the perfect physical presence to partner Mexes in defence.
Although Eric Abidal will be likely miss out on the tournament due to the player’s tragic health problems, Manchester United veteran Patrice Evra will continue to serve his country and Lille man Mathieu Debuchy is quickly making a worldwide name for himself, with exceptional international performances that have seen him attack from the right-back position.
With this fierce defensive line up at the ready, the theory is, that with a strong attack that doesn’t struggle to stick the ball in the net, France will be a force to be reckoned with. There is no need to introduce the potential threats of international superstars Karim Benzema or Franck Ribery. These men are French talisman, that will be looked upon to produce something special, but it is in other names that France can find there extra element.
Samir Nasri may seem like an obvious source of form, but the midfielder was not even picked to play in the South Africa World Cup. Since then, Nasri has shown some exceptional form for club and country. With his skill and aggression being up there with the best in the world the City player is a threat for opponent’s to keep a close eye on.
Ligue 1 top goal scorer Olivier Giroud has been capped three times by Laurent Blanc, scoring once in the 2-1 victory over Germany. The six foot three striker adds a target man element, to the French attack, and if he can maintain the form that has seen him net twenty-three goals this season he could be a regular source of French joy. Loic Remy is another French threat, and the tall Marseille man has a brilliant combination of power and pace which can terrorise the best of defences.
Elsewhere, Newcastle man Yohan Cabaye is key in giving Blanc’s side a strong core. Cabaye has been essential in Newcastle’s push for a top four position this year. Controlling central midfield with his tactical mind and brilliant distribution of the ball. The Premier League man is more than capable of replicating this form on the international stage. One can only hope Cabaye’s exciting in-form teammate Hatem Ben Arfa will also be feature on the French squad list for the tournament.
Other exciting names that have added to the France cause since 2010 include Yann M’Vila and Mathieu Valbuena. They will also help the team find the perfect blend of defence and attack, and if all goes to plan Laurent Blanc’s men will form a mean opponent. The opening fixture of the tournament against England on 11 June will more than put the French to the test. If they can produce a result in this game they could absorb enough momentum to launch a top run of form.
However, the French armour are not without chinks in their armour. The team only just claimed top place in their group after a late Samir Nasri equaliser claimed a point from the decisive match of the Euro qualifications against second placed Bosnia and Herzegovina. This hints at inconsistency, and it is this irritating noun that has often been the downfall of France in major competitions.
Results against some of the world’s biggest footballing nations have more than proved France can strut their stuff in style. One must remember that the side remain undefeated since September 2010. If the team can maintain their impressive defensive record whilst their new boys cause havoc up the other end of the park, they can show that this underdog has a big bark, and put themselves firmly in contention for the Henri Delaunay Trophy this summer.