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Friday, December 9, 2011

Euro 2012: France will not be favourites but could be dark horses

These are strange times for France. The last World Cup ended in so much ignominy for Les Bleus there is still the distinct impression of a nation trying to repair the damage and, though they have undoubtedly made progress, they are still a long way off the point when they can dare to think the process is nearing completion.

Their qualification for this competition, however, had therapeutic qualities in a country that would probably rather forget the last days of Raymond Domenech's six-year tenure. Laurent Blanc the man they knew as le président during his playing days, has quietly set about dispersing the stench of what happened in South Africa and, slowly but surely, there are at least signs of a renaissance.

They lost only one of their qualifying games and, with only four goals conceded, it is easy to see Blanc's influence. No other team in Poland and Ukraine were so parsimonious in the qualifying stages.

Even so, there is no reason for England to feel the kind of trepidation that would have accompanied being drawn against France a decade ago. Blanc benefited from a generous draw in qualifying and even with the penetrative qualities of Franck Ribéry and Karim Benzema the days are gone when the French squad contained a list of some of the world's authentic superstars. In many ways this has been the new French way: less ego, more teamwork, closer unity. Blanc's first act when he was given the job was to drop all 23 players who had been in the World Cup. Many have since been reinstated, though Ribéry, Patrice Evra and Jérémy Toulalan had to serve extra bans because of the mutiny against Domenech and Nicolas Anelka's international career is now a thing of the past.

France, in short, made the World Cup feel like an ordeal and because of that they will not be among the favourites. They can be classified as dark horses, though. One suspects they will be happy to prove they can get through it all controversy-free.

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