Cautious France wary of England in Group D

France have a long unbeaten record to protect as they seek to confirm their renaissance under coach Laurent Blanc by winning Group D to sweep into the quarter-finals at Euro 2012.

But Blanc knows they face a familiar obstacle in old foes England, however their opponents may have been recast by new manager Roy Hodgson, and has wisely been cautious ahead of their group-opening clash in Donetsk on Monday.

It is a fixture to remind him it is much too early for the cockerels to crow before his team face England and unpredictable co-hosts Ukraine plus durable Sweden in a tricky group.

Bitter memories of France's discordant early exit from the 2010 World Cup finals, as well as happier times, may serve him well if reminders about unity and concentration are required.

Inspired by Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane respectively, France won the Euros at home in 1984 and in neighboring Belgium and Netherlands in 2000 -- triumphs that leave them trailing only three-time winners Germany in the tournament's history.

This week, they completed their preparations with a 4-0 warm-up victory over Estonia to stretch their unbeaten run under 1998 World Cup winner Blanc to 21 games, including 15 wins.

But Blanc, who had a brief spell in the Manchester United defense in the twilight of his own distinguished playing career, knows and understands English football.

"They are not at full strength, but what concerns me is that England will play in a certain style," he said. "We are going to have to be extremely strong physically. That is going to be a difficult match."


Strong in defense and blessed with gifted forwards in Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri, and a fine striker in Karim Benzema, France should be favorites, particularly as England are depleted by injuries and Wayne Rooney's suspension.

Blanc recognizes, however, that nothing can be taken for granted in clashes between such old enemies.

"England will give everything because, when there are French against English, it raises the game above the normal international match," he said. "But we don't fear them more than any other team."

Despite being without striker Rooney for their first two games, as well as injured defender Gary Cahill and midfielders Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry, England are determined to progress and justify their FIFA ranking as the fourth best team in Europe and sixth in the world.

England's best showing at the European Championship was as losing semi-finalists at home in 1996. After two wins in warm-ups under Hodgson, they enter the tournament with confidence.

"We know we can get a result against France and it is a great opening fixture for us," said winger Stewart Downing. "We are not afraid of anybody."

Ukraine are coached by former Soviet Union winger Oleg Blokhin who guided them to the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals in his previous spell in charge.

Having lost 2-0 in their final warm-up game against Turkey on Tuesday, after a stomach bug swept through their squad, they are expected to struggle in their opener against Sweden despite home advantage in Kiev.

"I used to be an unpredictable player and I'm an equally unpredictable coach," said Blokhin, declining to reveal if he will rely on captain Andriy Shevchenko to inspire both team and crowd. The striker's young Dynamo Kiev club mate Andriy Yarmolenko is a more likely threat.

Sweden, under low-key coach Erik Hamren, will similarly hope for inspiration from moody striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player capable of dazzling moments but often simply frustrating, to add penetration to a solid team built to protect an ageing defense.

(Editing by Mark Meadows)