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New-look France begin Euro campaign against Belarus

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-09-03

French football fans will be watching anxiously when their national team meets Belarus for its first Euro 2012 qualifier on Friday. In recent years, the team has slipped from one of the world’s best to a lowly 21st in the rankings.

 

AP - France coach Laurent Blanc is making sure all his players will be singing the national anthem before a 2012 European Championship qualifier against Belarus on Friday, to show they really care about playing for their country.
 
Blanc is so concerned that some of his younger players actually may not actually know how to sing “La Marseillaise” that he has been handing out sheets with the lyrics on.
 
“I have personally encouraged the players to sing the Marseillaise because I was practically certain some of them didn’t know the words,” Blanc said on Thursday. “I think they will know the words to sing it now, but everyone’s free to do what they want. They know my way of thinking, though: if you know the national anthem of your country it’s preferable to sing it.”
 
France’s reputation is at an all-time low following its World Cup training strike fiasco and Blanc knows that the team has to get back to winning ways very soon.
 
Crucially, it must also win back the legions of fans it let down in South Africa and Blanc thinks a strong showing of national pride at Stade de France will help.
 
“I don’t have many opportunities to sing it. I admit I don’t sing it under the shower,” Blanc added. “But when you are representing your country - and God knows when you play for the national team you are - it’s a pleasure to sing it.”
 
Blanc, who took over from Raymond Domenech, is also sweating over the fitness of Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema after he hurt an ankle in training earlier this week. “Further tests revealed there’s nothing serious, but he’s still in pain,” Blanc said.
 
Blanc is without Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery and Chelsea forward Nicolas Anelka - who were all suspended by the French Football Federation for their part in France’s World Cup fiasco.
 
The whole France squad refused to train ahead of their final group game against World Cup host South Africa in protest of Anelka being sent home by the FFF for insulting Domenech. Evra clashed with the fitness coach and one FFF official resigned on the spot in disgust as live images were beamed back home to angry fans and politicians alike.
 
After nearly four years out of the French team, all of this seems odd to the recalled Everton striker Louis Saha, who is perplexed at how a once successful team has fallen so low.
 
France is now 21st in the FIFA world rankings, lower than Australia and the United States even though neither of those countries perceives football as its major sport.
 
“It’s bizarre. In my opinion, it’s easier for a player to play in the France team because there are better players, better pitches, better infrastructure,” Saha said. “We have to get back in the top 10, bring a new dynamic to France.”
 
Blanc, who won the World Cup in 1998 and the 2000 European Championship as a player, says the low ranking makes him “nauseous.”
 
“If your players have some talent but not the right team spirit, you won’t play well,” Blanc said. “It’s not enough to have talented players at your disposal, you have to turn them into a good team.”
 
To help get his message across, Blanc invited former France playmaker Zinedine Zidane and goalkeeper Fabien Barthez to the team’s training camp on Wednesday.
 
Blanc has injury concerns and is also struggling to build a defense – the hallmark of France’s winning teams.
 
Evra is suspended for five games and center-halves Philippe Mexes and Adil Rami played together for the first time in the 2-1 loss to Norway in last month’s friendly.
 
“People need time to get to know each other and to play well,” Blanc said. Arsenal left back Gael Clichy has played only five times for France, but looks to set for a run in Evra’s absence.
 
Blanc has not decided on his new captain yet. Chelsea winger Florent Malouda or Alou Diarra - who was Blanc’s captain at Bordeaux - are tipped to take the armband.
 
“If there is one player who stands out because of his personality, his charisma and who is irreproachable in terms of his mentality, he will be captain,” Blanc said.
 
Lille’s Yohan Cabaye and Real Madrid’s Lassana Diarra both pulled out this week with injuries. With Yoann Gourcuff suspended, Blanc has no playmaker and could switch to a 4-4-2 formation with Diarra and Arsenal’s Abou Diaby in central midfield.
 
Malouda is certain to start on the left wing, with Roma’s Jeremy Menez tipped to take the right flank. If he recovers, Benzema may be partnered by either Saha, Loic Remy, newcomer Kevin Gameiro or Guillaume Hoarau. Belarus coach Bernd Stange thinks the time is right to beat France. “If our team plays at 100 percent, we will have the chance to really spoil the mood of the hosts,” Stange said.
 
The French are focusing on the feel-good factor and the FFF slashed ticket prices, with 10,000 seats available for €10 ($13) each.

 

Date created : 2010-09-03

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