France dark horses for Euro glory
Published: 15.06.12 / Written by: Hakon Hoyland
If there is a true dark horse of this European Championships, it is the French, who come into the tournament on the back of a 21 match unbeaten run which stretches back to 2010.
In that time they have beaten England (ok, no great achievement this), Brazil and Germany. France have a team reinvigorated under Laurent Blanc, who has quietly but intelligently gone about rebuilding a squad who endured a nightmare of a World Cup in 2010.
That experience, where they humiliatingly exited at the group stage with just one goal and one point to show for their efforts (or lack of), hurt. It was a group of players who had erred massively, and been embarrassed on the greatest stage of all.
Two years on, they look like something verging on a team. A more cohesive side has been constructed, with numerous attacking talents encircling Karim Benzema up front. The Real Madrid man has been in inspired form for his club, with 21 goals in 26 games in the league this season. That form has helped him at last realise some of his huge potential.
But Benzema has an array of top class attackers around him to help him fire the French to glory. Franck Ribery is at last showing the kind of form that Bayern Munich see most weeks for the national team after disappointing previously. Then there are the talents of Mathieu Valbuena, Samir Nasri, Marvin Martin and Hatem ben Arfa, a quartet of dazzling creative midfielders.
Behind them will sit, injury permitting, Yann M'Vila, a destructive but also technically gifted box to box midfielder who can be the Patrick Vieira of this generation. M'Vila seems certain to leave Rennes this summer, and there will be a host of teams queuing up to sign him if he shows half of his true potential in Poland and the Ukraine.
Defensively France look reasonable too. This is the weak link of the side, but it's not a bad one. Four goals conceded in qualifying was the second fewest, behind Italy, and shows that France know how to keep their opponents out. Philippe Mexes and Adil Rami are a useful centre back pairing who can nullify most forwards at this competition, whilst Laurent Koscielny as back up is not bad. At right back Mathieu Debuchy has shown himself to be a star in the making and is making himself a fixture in Blanc's set up. On the left France can choose from Gael Clichy or Patrice Evra, giving them a hugely talented back line, playing in front of the ever reliable Hugo LLoris.
This is a team used to winning too, having gone so long without defeat. They showed their confidence in the week against Estonia, though they of course are not the most difficult of opponents. France though are showing glimpses and the ability to be a real force during these Euros. They should not be underestimated.