France put trauma of 2010 behind them

2012-06-20 10:35

After the humiliation of the 2010 World Cup, France took another significant step on the road to recovery by qualifying for the quarterfinals of Euro 2012.

Before leaving for Ukraine, France’s mission was to rediscover their status as one of European football’s major powers and win back the fans left disgusted by the conduct of their players in South Africa two years ago.

Despite a mixed bag of results in their group matches – a draw with England, a good win over Ukraine in soggy conditions but then a loss to already-eliminated Sweden – they are on their way to fulfilling their objectives.

Qualification for the last eight having been identified as the minimum requirement, Laurent Blanc and his men can now attack the rest of the tournament knowing that mission has already been accomplished.

Since taking the reins in the aftermath of the South African disaster, Blanc has undertaken a vast renovation job, with wide-ranging changes in both personnel and style of play.

Despite a slightly laborious qualification campaign, the results have vindicated his strategy.

Against the Swedes France suffered their first defeat in 24 matches, a run stretching back to September 7 2010.

Their list of victims in friendly matches during that period featured heavyweights including England, Germany and Brazil.

But they still needed the validation that only a major tournament can provide.

Blanc has succeeded where his predecessor Raymond Domenech had failed in his last two international competitions – Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup – by leading Les Bleus out of the group phase.

France’s return to the European elite is also a breath of fresh air for the French Football Federation.

The organisation’s president, Noel Le Graët, has made repairing the damage to France’s reputation, post 2010, one of his principal objectives.

Looking at the television viewing figures for France’s first two matches (which each attracted over 10 million viewers), his mission is on track.

The French revival is above all a reward for the methods introduced by Blanc.

In a total break with Domenech’s style, “the President” has benefited from the respect afforded him as a former France great and a member of the side that won the 1998 World Cup and the European Championship two years later.

It has enabled him to impose his views, relaunch the careers of supposed troublemakers such as Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema and Philippe Mexes, and introduce an attacking style of play based on dominating possession.

By leading France into the quarterfinals, Blanc has also secured his own medium-term future at the helm and appears set to lead Les Bleus through the qualification process for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

He will meet Le Graët after the Euro to discuss his future but there no longer seems any doubt that he will be offered a contract extension.

Sporting concerns aside, Blanc very quickly appreciated the scale of the rupture with the fans before he came in and has done everything to facilitate greater interaction between players and supporters.

Ribery’s case perfectly demonstrates the change in attitude that has been effected over the past two years.

Discredited in the eyes of French fans after becoming embroiled in a child prostitution scandal and pinpointed as a ringleader in the training boycott that occurred in South Africa, the Bayern Munich winger has nonetheless enjoyed support from Blanc throughout.

His rediscovered popularity during France’s three warm-up matches and generally impressive performances in Ukraine suggest a page has been definitely turned on the Knysna training ground mutiny of 2010.

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