Blanc adjusts for Croatia visit
Les Bleus went four points clear in their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying group following Friday's 2-0 win in Luxembourg, but the laborious nature of the victory raised fresh doubts about the team's attacking configuration.
Franck Ribery, making his first appearance since last year's FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, was largely ineffective until being switched from the right flank to the left late in the game. His chief rival for the left-wing role he covets, Chelsea's Florent Malouda, was similarly disappointing, while Yoann Gourcuff of Lyon and Arsenal's Samir Nasri both flattered to deceive in central midfield.
Blanc has promised to shuffle his pack for the visit of Croatia, which will be a repeat of the 1998 FIFA World Cup semi-final, and he admitted to being concerned by what he saw against Luxembourg.
"We have to shift from a match with something at stake to a friendly match but we have to prepare for it in the perspective of the targets we've set ourselves and God knows, after the match against Luxembourg there are things that need reviewing," said the France coach on Monday. "There are lots of areas in which we were average and that will allow certain players to play, with the guideline being to continue our winning streak."
Despite media speculation that Marseille's Steve Mandanda is in line to replace first-choice goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, Blanc said he would keep faith with the Lyon man. "I will be very clear, tomorrow (Tuesday) it's Hugo who plays," said Blanc. "It's very important for a goalkeeper to have an understanding with his defence. So you can expect the goalkeeper and the centre-backs (Philippe Mexes and Adil Rami) to be the same as in Luxembourg."
Another complicating factor for Blanc is the fact that Ribery and Patrice Evra are likely to face a hostile reception from the Stade de France crowd. The two men are widely seen as the ringleaders of France's training ground revolt at in South Africa and, having returned from exile in the game against Luxembourg, they will be braced for a backlash from the home fans on Tuesday.
"We'll see how it goes," Ribery told French television channel TF1 on Sunday. "I think there will be whistles but we'll have to accept this moment, let it pass, and continue to move forward." Evra, meanwhile, was bullish: "The people who whistle will be the first people who ask me for my shirt at the end, so I'll treat it like a game."
Croatia were left second in EURO 2012 qualifying Group F, a point behind leaders Greece, after a 90th-minute goal from Levan Kobiashvili condemned them to a 1-0 defeat in Georgia on Saturday.
France won 2-1 when the sides met at the Stade de France in the 1998 world finals, but the game is also remembered for a red card shown to Blanc following a tussle with Slaven Bilic, the current Croatia manager. Blanc missed the final as a result and Bilic was widely criticised for play-acting, but Blanc said he would not avoid a handshake with his opposite number on Tuesday.
"I'll shake his hand without any second thoughts," said the France coach. "I've run into him and there are no problems between him and me. He said that I was at fault (for getting sent off) and he was right. It's in the past. It's a new confrontation with new players."