Team Profile: With two European Cups in 1984 and 2000 and a World Cup in 1998 already in the bag, Les Bleus have a decent enough track record. But after reaching the World Cup final in 2006 (who can forget Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt?) it’s all been downhill, with a dismal performance at Euro 2008 and a disastrous World Cup campaign two years ago in South Africa, which saw then-manager Raymond Domenich publicly lambasted by his own players, prompting a government inquiry. Since then the new manager has managed to steady the ship, resulting in a relatively smooth passage through Euro 2012 qualification and an unbeaten run of 17 games. Finding themselves alongside England in Group D, France won’t be quivering with fear when they meet the Three Lions – they are unbeaten in the two sides’ last five clashes and have won four of these.
Coach: Laurent Blanc
Nicknamed ‘Le Président’, Blanc made his professional debut with Montpellier in 1983 and went on to play for various European clubs, including Barcelona, Marseille and Manchester United, plus he was part of the French sides that lifted the World Cup and European Cup in 1998 and 2000 respectively. His managerial career is still in its infancy, starting in 2007 with a successful stint at the head of Bordeaux, followed by his appointment as France coach in the aftermath of the team’s shambolic, mutinous performance in South Africa. But he does seem to have his players’ backing.
Player to watch: Karim Benzema
Having struggled to find form and convince the previous France manager to include him in his line-up, Benzema has finally been finding the net and turning out strong performances – both for the national side and his club, Real Madrid. The 23-year-old striker made his professional debut with Lyon in 2004 but had to wait another three years for his breakthrough season, in which he netted 31 goals in 51 games. After signing for Real Madrid in 2009, Benzema has grown season by season and is now rightly seen as a potent attacking force, having already surpassed Zinedine Zidane as the top French scorer in Spain’s La Liga.
FIFA World Ranking: 16
UEFA Euro Ranking: 6
Number of Euro appearances: 13
Previous best: Winners in 1984 and 2000
Qualification: Winners of Group D – 15 goals scored, 4 goals against, 64 attempts on target, 68 corners
Form (qualifying): LWWWWDWDWD
Fixtures: June 11 vs. England; June 15 vs. Ukraine; June 19 vs. Sweden