Published May 30, 2012
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – France was one of the most formidable national teams in the world not so long ago, winning the World Cup in 1998 and the subsequent European Championship in 2000.
But apart from a World Cup run in 2006 that saw Les Blues narrowly finish runners-up to Italy after losing 5-3 on penalties, France has failed to make it out of the group stage in three attempts.
Since the appointment of coach Laurent Blanc following France's disappointing World Cup exit in 2010, expectations have been raised for Les Blues. The team showed a great deal of progress by qualifying for Euro 2012 comfortably with just one defeat in 10 matches, but a loss to Iceland in a warm-up friendly has raised some concerns over whether the French can be considered serious contenders.
"We leave ourselves exposed a lot with the system we have," Manchester City's Samir Nasri is quoted as saying in the Daily Star. "We struggled to have enough cover in midfield.
"Our opponents found gaps to get through. We need to find the right balance if we line up the same way. Once the Euros start it will be difficult for us to come back if we start a game in the same way we did against Iceland."
Blanc responded to questions raised over the defense by saying that France is not yet the finished product and that it should be judged by the performance in the tournament, not its preceding friendlies.
"We have to be ready for June 11, not before," Blanc said. "I told the players: 'Do your best to be at your best from that date onwards.'
"With our preparation, we are not physically at our best. That could explain why we were lacking in defense."
While France's defense remains suspect, its quality in attack cannot be questioned.
Along with the aforementioned Nasri, Blanc's side boasts a nucleus of young talent up front consisting of Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery and Hatem Ben Arfa, making Les Blues one of the most dangerous sides in this summer's Euros. France also has above-average bench options in attack with the likes of Montpellier's Olivier Giroud and PSG's Jeremy Menez.
One player who could be poised for a big tournament is Rennes midfielder Yann M'Vila. The 21-year-old, who has drawn interest from Arsenal, has the ability to disrupt the opposition's play and maintain possession in tight spaces. If M'Vila is in top form, he can relieve some pressure on the back line and guide France to an improved defensive display.
France was a team in turmoil in World Cup 2010, and it showed in the results as Les Blues picked up just one point in the group stage due to a great deal of unrest between players and head coach Raymond Domenech. But the hiring of Blanc has brought stability and unity, and a young, talented squad gives the French reason for optimism. France should be considered favorites to win Group D, which consists of England, Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine, but a deep run in the knockout round will depend on the strength of its opponents and the momentum it carries over from the group stage.