France enter Euro 2012 as a slight underdog, after a less than convincing qualifying campaign left them down the seedings. However, Laurent Blanc has bred a winning mentality into a team that will look to get back to former glories and put an awful 2010 World Cup campaign behind them. Despite the likes of Germany, Netherlands and Spain being touted as the competition’s frontrunners, Les Bleus could spring a surprise. Blanc’s men are unbeaten in 18 consecutive games, have beaten England and the Germans away from home since the last international tournament and also triumphed against Brazil. Looking at a squad mixed with tried-and-tested European superstars and young talents, and a lack of expectation, France may well surprise a few people.
The French huffed-and-puffed in qualifying without ever really looking to have the quality of the side that won the 2000 version of the tournament, but Blanc’s men are highly unpredictable. The likes of Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery can be scintillating on their day or ineffective when not in the mood to play, and the Gaelic nation will hope their most talented attacking players can forge chances for Real Madrid marksman Karim Benzema. The 24-year-old has come into his own this term to hold down a regular place in the Spanish champions’ starting XI, and will be a major threat to France’s opponents this summer. In deeper lying areas the combativeness of Alou Diarra and Yann M’Vila will be counteracted by energy and range of passing of Yohan Cabaye, whilst at the back Patrice Evra will look to inspire and marshall the likes of the less-experienced Laurent Koscielny, Adil Ramy and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.
Key man: Franck Ribery
The Bayern Munich attacker has had an inconsistent campaign for the Bundesliga giants; at times dazzling with extraordinary skill, the 29-year-old frustrates the Allianz Arena faithful in equal measure with poor delivery. Ribery has been accused of not showing up in the big games, with the recent Champions League final defeat to Chelsea quoted as a key example. The former Marseille winger is undoubtedly talented, and with 57 caps to his name is one of the most experienced players at Blanc’s disposal; the rest of this youngish group will look to their big-name star to deliver in Ukraine and Poland.
Watch out for: Marvin Martin
With the likes of Ribery and Nasri in the squad, playmaker Marvin Martin’s role is as yet undetermined. The Sochaux attacking midfielder has flown under the radar slightly outside of Ligue 1, but the 24-year-old could well be something of a wildcard for the French side. Martin has continued to impress at the Stade Auguste Bonal, and consistently delivers as one of the players in the division to provide the most assists over a season. With a delightful first touch and eye for a killer pass Martin is a matchwinner and has been compared to Zinedine Zidane in his homeland. A move to a bigger club this summer is all but guaranteed, and Martin could well shoot into superstardom if given a chance to play consistently.
1000 Goals predicts:
France have an unpredictability about them to surprise a few people, and will be a tricky customer to face if they hit their straps. Although this squad does not have the standout players of previous generations, it is competitive at worst and technically superb. Should get out of Group D and may even top the pool, France can potentially get to the semi-finals but could come unstuck against one of the big boys.