Blanc defiant amid EURO concerns
France coach Laurent Blanc on Wednesday said he has confidence in his squad a year on from their 2010 FIFA World Cup™ debacle and despite ongoing concerns about their set-up at UEFA EURO 2012. Blanc took over from Raymond Domenech, who steered a mutinous France squad through a stormy FIFA World Cup campaign in South Africa which ended with elimination at the first hurdle.
The crop of 2011 has since partly made amends by securing their place at EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine following a qualifying campaign which, combined with friendlies, has left France undefeated in 17 matches. But while Blanc believes France can spring a surprise or two next summer, he is concerned about how comfortable the team will be at their Ukraine base following a recent visit which revealed that their hotel is still far from completion.
France will play all three group games in Ukraine, and have pre-booked Shakhtar Donetsk's facilities. However Blanc is concerned about the progress, or lack of, being made on their hotel 60 km away. "I hope it won't be a harsh winter because it didn't look as though much progress had been made on construction of the hotel," said Blanc, who refuted claims France had left their preparatory visits too late. "Germany and Spain went to check out their facilities earlier than we did, but they were among the first teams to qualify."
France, who also bowed out of EURO 2008 at the group phase, kick off their campaign against England on 11 June on Donetsk, where they also face the co-hosts Ukraine four days later. Their final group game comes against Sweden in Kiev on 19 June.
Blanc also lamented the fact that French league bosses have refused to fall into line with potential rivals by bringing the domestic season to a close earlier than usual. But he feels the team can rise above such setbacks to put their South African debacle behind them.
"Whether the first Euro games start on 8, 9, 10 or 11 June, the other major domestic leagues all end on 13 May, which gives them more preparation time than us," said Blanc. "That's the way it is. We have to make do. It just shows that the requirements of those fighting for the game in France are, unfortunately, incompatible with what can be done."
Former France players have recently claimed that Les Bleus, the FIFA World Cup winners in 1998 and European champions two years later, have no chance of winning the 2012 edition. Blanc, however, remains defiant. Referring to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, he said: "There are some episodes that you can't just erase with a magic wand. We'd like to have an all-conquering France team, which plays well and that everyone can identify with.
"I hope that will be the case, as it has been in the past but that comes through getting good results. And on that score, I'm sorry, but 2011 has been a good year. When you are undefeated for 17 matches, including friendlies, it's not to be sniffed at. But people aren't happy (with the team) and since 2010 they're going to be very demanding with us. And maybe they're right."