FIFA World ranking:
v. England – June 11 – Donbass Arena, Donetsk
v. Ukraine – June 15 – Donbass Arena, Donetsk
v. Sweden – June 19 – Olympic Stadium, Kiev
The road to the championship:
After a shameful performance at the World Cup in 2010, Les Bleus began their EURO 2012 qualifying campaign under new manager Laurent Blanc in the worst possible fashion – with a shock 1-0 loss at home to Belarus. However, it proved to be a minor hurdle, and their only loss in ten qualification matches. Finishing just a solitary point ahead of Bosnia & Herzegovina to secure automatic qualification in Group D, the French weren’t entirely convincing throughout the qualifying phase, although a major positive was the introduction of promising youngsters into a squad that was in dire need of re-generation.
Champions – 1984, 2000
Karim Benzema – With a career-best 31 goals in all competitions this season, Benzema helped Real Madrid end Barcelona’s dominance of La Liga in his best season at the Bernabeu. The former Lyon striker’s movement off the ball, combined with his sheer acceleration and lethal finishing will be a nightmare for opposition defences.
Franck Ribéry – Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery had an incredible second half to the season in both the Bundesliga and the UEFA Champions League, helping steer the Bavarians to the Champions League final, whilst narrowly missing out on the Bundesliga title to Borussia Dortmund. One of the world’s best wingers, he possesses incredible pace and trickery, although has to deal with constant criticism by both the French media and fans for being too individualistic and not a ‘team player’ in the national team.
Player to watch out for:
Yann M’Vila – Frequently compared to great former French national team players Patrick Vieira and Claude Makalele, the 21-year-old Stade Rennes player is a deep lying playmaker with excellent vision and an incredible work rate. Already linked with major European clubs – despite his tender age – M’Vila faces a battle to be a starting XI player when France kick-off their first match against England on the June 11. However, he is likely to become a key member of the team in the future, when France prepare for the 2014 World Cup.
Laurent Blanc – having lifted the Henri Delaunay trophy as a player in 2000, the former Bordeaux manager was assigned with the difficult task of regenerating an ageing squad as well as qualifying for this year’s European Championships. By achieving both of those goals set for him by the French Football Federation, all he needs is for France to go deep in the tournament this June and a contract extension surely awaits. Easier said then done, however.
Classic EURO moment:
EURO 2000 Final – Rotterdam, Netherlands
In one of the most incredible finals in world footballing history, the Italians led the match heading into injury time and looked certain to claim their second European Championship. With the jubilant Azzurri players and coaching staff ready to run on to the pitch in celebration, French striker Sylvain Wiltord equalised in the fourth minute of injury time to send the game into extra time, before David Trezeguet scored the winner in the first half of extra time to hand France their second European title, two years after their first World Cup win, to leave the Italians devastated.
In a group that contains perennial underachievers England, co-hosts Ukraine and the underrated Sweden, France won’t have it all their own way in Group D. However, they should be good enough to top it. A probable Quarter-Final meeting with either Croatia or Italy beckons, although a Semi-Final matchup with Holland maybe a step too far.
upstart is previewing each of the final teams in the lead up to the EURO 2012. Monday’s team: England