French football legend Thierry Henry once said, "I eat football, I sleep football, I breathe football. I'm not mad, I'm just passionate." Two years ago, he couldn't prevent his team from going down in the first round of the FIFA world cup. Since then, French football has been patchy and inconsistent. When Raymond Domenech paved way for Laurent Blanc to be the head coach, skeptics predicted a free fall. However, Blanc has performed a decent job and guided his team to their fourth consecutive Euro appearance. Can he take his team all the way to attain glory? Or will they stumble in their path? These questions will be answered in the next couple of weeks.
Route to qualification
France's qualification campaign got off to the worst possible start when they suffered a shock home defeat to minnows Belarus in September 2010. However, they were quickly back on track and overcame Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0. October 2012 was a rewarding month for Laurent Blanc as his boys beat Romania 2-0 and Luxemborg by the same margin. Luxemborg did not put up a fight in the reverse fixture, in March 2011, and were again beaten 0-2. Belarus proved to be a thorn in the flesh again for Blanc as they held to France to a 1-1 draw. France survived a scare from Albania on September 2, 2011 and eventually managed to win the game 2-1. Their inconsistent form in the qualifiers showed once again as they failed to get past Romania four days later and were held to a goalless draw. France ensured qualification in October 2011, after trouncing Albania 3-0 and holding off Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-1 in their last qualifier. Though France emerged as group winners, they finished only a point ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
European championships history
Les Blues are one of the most successful teams in Euro, having won the title twice and finished fourth twice. They lost to Yugoslavia in the semi-final of the 1960 European Championship. After a 24-year long wait, France tasted their first ever European success, beating Spain 2-0 in the final. France suffered a heart-break in the 1996 edition as they lost their semi-final encounter with Czech Republic on penalties. However they made amends for that loss by winning the next edition of the tournament, beating Italy 2-1 after extra-time. Only Germany, with three titles, leads Les Blues in the number of European titles won.
France are in Group D, also known as the Group of Death, alongside hosts Ukraine, giant-killers Sweden and traditional rivals England. France commence their quest for third title at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk against England on June 11, 2012. After a short three-day break, they face hosts Ukraine at the same venue. With a 50000 plus crowd in strong support of the hosts, this game would be no cake-walk for Laurent Blanc and his boys. Sweden, who have a reputation for knocking down football heavy-weights once in a while, would provide a tough challenge to the Blues, when they meet each other on June 19, 2012.
Laurent Blanc included un-capped defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa in his 26-man provisional squad while out-of-form midfielder Yoann Gourcuff also finds a place. However, Blanc will miss the services of the injured Eric Abidal, Bacary Sagna and Younes Kaboul. Loic Remy is expected to recover in time to find a place in the final squad which will be named on May 29.
Goalkeepers: Cedric Carrasso, Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda.
Defenders: Gael Clichy, Mathieu Debuchy, Patrice Evra, Laurent Koscielny, Philippe Mexes, Adil Rami, Anthony Reveillere, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye, Alou Diarra, Yoann Gourcuff, Yann M'Vila, Florent Malouda, Marvin Martin, Blaise Matuidi, Samir Nasri.
Forwards: Hatem Ben Arfa, Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud, Jeremy Menez, Loic Remy, Franck Ribery, Mathieu Valbuena.
Karim Benzema is the man to watch out for. He was the team's joint top-scorer in the qualifiers and scored 28 goals for his club Real Madrid last season. Wingers Frank Ribery and Samir Nasri would provide ample ammunition to the attack. Both of them are proven talent and can cause difficulties to even the world's best defenders.
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Gokul is an avid sports fan and blogger.
Article Source: Gokul_Muthukumaresan