Following their promising start to UEFA EURO 2012, France’s final game of the group stages was something of a backward step. The defeat to Sweden took the wind out of the sails of both players and fans, who had been hoping for their 21-match unbeaten streak to continue. Instead, more questions were raised than were answered.
Nevertheless, Les Bleus still reached the knockout rounds, even if they did lose top spot in Group D to arch-rivals England. Now their greatest challenge awaits: world and European champions Spain. With the French squad determined to cause an upset, midfielder Yann M’Vila spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about both his and his country’s participation at the tournament and gave his thoughts on their formidable quarter-final opponents.
The Rennes player was philosophical in summarising France’s involvement in Poland and Ukraine so far. “The fact that we qualified for the quarter-finals is good news. That was our objective and we achieved it, though we would have liked to finish top of the group,” said the 20-year-old. “We weren’t expecting to play that badly against Sweden, but there’s nothing we can do about it now, so we just need to look to the future.”
The setback against Sweden was all the more surprising given the positive performances in the two previous matches, against England (1-1) and Ukraine (2-0). “Honestly, even I don’t know," said M’Vila, at a loss to explain exactly what went wrong. "Maybe we were lacking motivation, thinking we were already through. It might have been that. But the Swedish surprised us too, they were a lot better than us and deserved to win.”
Despite the defeat, there was one positive to come out of the match. M’Vila returned to the starting line-up after suffering an injury at the worst possible moment. “It was a good experience. At the start I felt a bit stiff and it took me some time to get into the game,” said M’Vila. “But after a while I started to feel better, I let go and I don’t think I did too badly. Physically I was fine. I’m ready to give 100 per cent whenever I’m needed.”
A challenge and a target
He is likely to require every last drop of energy against all-conquering Spain, and the central midfielder is expecting a tough time trying to get the better of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Co. “It’s difficult. We’re talking about the world and European champions. They’re the favourites for this match and for the whole tournament. If we want to beat them we have to improve everywhere, no excuses. I don’t see how we can do it otherwise.”
In addition to raising their game, M’Vila has a clear idea of the tactics needed to overcome the Spanish. “It’s going to be very difficult to get the ball off them, we know that already. But we can take advantage of the spaces they leave us. And above all, we need to be clinical with the chances we create in front of goal. That’s the only way of doing it.”
Yet in spite of the imposing task ahead, M’Vila, who turns 21 next week, is not shy in talking about his ambitions. “We want to win the tournament. The first step was to qualify for the quarter-finals and we did that without playing particularly well. Of course now we won’t be happy just to settle for the quarter-finals. We’re playing Spain. So what? We’re ready to win the title.”
Regardless of this bullish approach, M’Vila did have a final word of warning for his team-mates ahead of the tie. “If we play like we did against Sweden, we’ll go out. We need to show character and play well. That’ll be the key.”