Blanc’s France with work to do
An avowed fan of the Spanish national team, it was ironic that Laurent Blanc should see his France side fall in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals to the players they aspire to emulate.
France have made significant progress since Blanc succeeded Raymond Domenech as coach in the aftermath of the traumatic 2010 World Cup campaign, but Saturday’s 2-0 loss in Donetsk revealed how much work there is still to do.
For all their technical quality, France mustered just one shot on target in the entire game at Donbass Arena and Spain were able to keep them at arm’s length as the clock ticked down.
Blanc’s decision to stiffen his midfield in a bid to stifle Spain’s passing rhythm failed to come off, but he hinted that he had found grounds for optimism in his side’s performances during the tournament.
“We’ve just gone out of the competition and the disappointment is obvious for the staff and the players, but we’ll have to analyse this Euro,” said the France coach.
“We’ll do it in the days ahead. There will be satisfactions and disappointments, and you’ll see what happens next.”
As the dust settles on France’s Euro 2012 campaign, it is clear that Blanc’s decision to place his trust in talented but controversy-prone players, such as Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa, was only a qualified success.
During both the warm-up matches and the group phase, there were moments when France played the kind of confident, possession-based football that Blanc has been desperate to introduce.
France averaged 55.8 per cent of possession during the group stage, a figure bettered only by Spain (71.3 per cent), and they controlled proceedings in both the 1-1 draw with England and the 2-0 win over Ukraine.
However, Blanc’s ship ran aground in supposedly benign waters when France fell 2-0 to Sweden – who had already been eliminated – in their final Group D game in Kiev.
It brought an end to a 23-match unbeaten run, but further damage was inflicted by a post-game slanging match in the changing room in which Nasri and Ben Arfa reportedly played prominent roles.
Compared to the training ground strike at the 2010 World Cup, it was a minor incident, but it prompted unhelpful headlines in the French press about old demons resurfacing.
Worse was to follow, however, as Nasri vented his frustration after the Spain defeat by unleashing a torrent of foul-mouthed abuse at an AFP journalist.
Allied to his controversial celebration after scoring against England, it left Nasri as the black sheep of the French campaign.
He was dropped against Spain, and Blanc must now decide whether the Manchester City midfielder is worth the hassle.
For all the fire in the changing room, France lacked a cutting edge on the pitch.
Karim Benzema failed to score in four games, while Franck Ribery only shone in fits and starts and Olivier Giroud was unable to make an impact from the bench.
It leaves Blanc with plenty of food for thought, although he can, at least, expect to be offered a contract extension after fulfilling the French Football Federation’s objective of taking France to the last eight.
After a friendly with Uruguay on August 15, France play their first World Cup qualifier in September and in another ironic twist, their main rivals in Group I will be Spain.
Blanc will hope to run them closer next time.