With almost a third of its
players at Premier League clubs and a coach who played for
Manchester United, the French Euro 2012 squad is well placed to
judge the merits of England, the team's first Group D opponents
France's trainer Laurent Blanc makes no secret of his
admiration for and his interest in English football, where he
played for two seasons from 2001-03 and where he won his last
title as Premier League champions with United.
No less than seven of his 23-strong squad play for an
English club and several of them have enjoyed great success this
Florent Malouda won the Champions League with Chelsea while
Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy captured the league title with
At Newcastle United, Hatem Ben Arfa rediscovered his form
after a long injury absence and Yohan Cabaye had a great debut
season in England, securing his position as his team's key
Things did not go as well for Patrice Evra, who saw
Manchester United's title ambitions dashed in the final seconds
of the league season, or for Laurent Koscielny, who had a solid
season at centre back for an Arsenal team which once again
failed to land a trophy.
But however their season went, all agree that it would be
presumptuous to be blithely optimistic against an England team
supposedly weakened by injuries and suspension.
"I expect a strong, solid team that will come at us," said
Evra, the longest serving of the seven after six and a half
seasons at United. "They are not going to give us anything.
"There is a lot of talk about how many injuries they have
and the fact that they have just had a new manager. But look at
what happened with [Roberto] Di Matteo at Chelsea - he came in
late in the season and won the Champions League. So that means
Defender Evra believes the first game is crucial because it
often determines what follows in a competition where the early
stages are often tougher than at the World Cup.
"This is our most important match at Euro 2012. If we draw,
the doubts start to set in. If we lose, we will already start to
think we may be going home," added Evra, who himself played in
France's disastrous group stage campaigns at the 2010 World Cup
and at Euro 2008.
Clichy, his rival for the left-back berth, is also wary of
dismissing England's chances in advance. "We are looking at a
team with players of great experience like John Terry and Steven
Gerrard," he said. "They could practically play without a
Clichy believes the absence through suspension of Wayne
Rooney, England's main strike threat, gives France only a
"That probably benefits us a little but they have so much
quality it does not make much difference who plays or when," he
Koscielny described the game as like a final. "We know if we
win, we will have every chance of qualifying from the group," he
Nasri, who plays with several members of the England team at
Manchester City, said bragging rights were at stake and he did
not want to be the butt of dressing room jokes next season.
"My team-mates [Joe] Hart, [Joleon] Lescott and [James]
Milner will be there so we just have to win," he said with a
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