France coach Laurent Blanc was
still playing down their chances of winning Euro 2012 despite a
superb 21-match unbeaten run going into the opening Group D
match against England.
The relaxed 46-year-old gave a virtuoso performance as the
foreign media gathered at the Donbass Arena on Sunday to hear
his views on everything from his team's chances ahead of beating
old rivals England to, somewhat bizarrely, Nicolas Anelka.
"The French team don't have the same ambitions as Spain or
Germany at the start of these European Championship," he said.
"In terms of our results over the last few years, France
have not retained our place in European or world football.
"We have to look at what's clear. It's the reality.
"People say we're favourites in the group, but I don't agree
with that. We were in the fourth pot in the draw, and that means
something. It's an open group. France, England, Ukraine and
Sweden can all legitimately believe they can get into the latter
Blanc, who spent two years of his long career in England
with Manchester United, also said the match provided a contrast
of footballing philosophies between two teams with plenty in
Seven of the French squad play in the Premier League and
Blanc remains a keen student of the English game.
"Essentially, the fact I played in England for two years
means I know the English players' mentality.
"I just saw Gary Neville [his former United team-mate] a few
minutes ago, now coaching with the national team.
"I know what to expect in terms of spirit and strength in
the tackles. They'll be like that tomorrow, maybe even more so.
"We've watched their last two friendly games. We didn't
learn they were very committed - we knew that - but if they play
in the same way they'll drop back, have a bank of four with some
quick players, and try and hit us on the break.
"We need to be wary of that, and make sure we're not caught
off guard. If there's space in behind, they'll counter-attack.
Steven Gerrard is a great passer of the football, too."
France, like England, have had injury worries with second-
choice goalkeeper Steve Mandanda and midfielders Yann M'Vila and
Blaise Matuidi all unlikely to be considered for selection.
"The three players are available, but picking them would be
a risk, but if you're not willing to take risks you may as well
not take part," Blanc said.
"I think it'll be difficult for those three players to start
the game, but they could possibly - even probably - be ready for
the rest of the group."
He was also asked whether he had considered selecting Anelka
in his squad.
The striker's international career was effectively ended by
an 18-match ban handed out by the French FA after he was sent
home from the World Cup campaign in South Africa two years ago
and he is now playing out his career in China.
Smiling warmly at the Chinese reporter who asked the
question, Blanc replied; "Well, it's a question like any
other... as you know, he's an excellent player, but we didn't
have this problem because he was suspended by the French
Football Federation so we couldn't actually pick him."
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