Renewed France still falters
DONETSK - Agence France-Presse
Xabi Alonso (C) of Spain celebrates with teammates after scoring the second goal against France in a Euro 2012 quarterfinal match in Donetsk, Ukraine. Spain won the game 2-0 to earn a spot in the semifinals. EPA photo
An avowed fan of the Spanish national team, it was ironic that Laurent Blanc should see his France side fall in the Euro 2012 quarterfinals to the players he aspires to emulate.
France has made significant progress since Blanc succeeded Raymond Domenech as coach in the aftermath of the traumatic 2010 World Cup campaign, but Saturday’s 2-0 loss in Donetsk revealed how much work there is still to do.
For all its technical quality, France mustered just one shot on target in the entire game at Donbass Arena and Spain was able to keep the French at arm’s length as the clock ticked down.
Blanc’s decision to stiffen his midfield in a bid to stifle Spain’s passing rhythm failed to come off, but he hinted that he had found grounds for optimism in his side’s performances during the tournament.
“We’ve just gone out of the competition and the disappointment is obvious for the staff and the players, but we’ll have to analyze this Euro,” said the France coach. “We’ll do it in the days ahead.
There will be satisfactions and disappointments, and you’ll see what happens next.”
As the dust settles on France’s Euro 2012 campaign, it is clear that Blanc’s decision to place his trust in talented but controversy-prone players such as Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa was only a qualified success. During both the warm-up matches and the group phase, there were moments when France played the kind of confident, possession-based football that Blanc has been desperate to introduce.
France averaged 55.8 percent of possession during the group stage, a figure bettered only by Spain (71.3 percent), and it controlled proceedings in both the 1-1 draw with England and the 2-0 win over Ukraine.
However, Blanc’s ship ran aground in supposedly benign waters when France fell 2-0 to Sweden - which had already been eliminated - in its final Group D game in Kiev.
End of unbeaten run
It brought an end to a 23-match unbeaten run, but further damage was inflicted by a post-game slanging match in the changing room in which Nasri and Ben Arfa reportedly played prominent roles.
Compared to the training ground strike at the 2010 World Cup, it was a minor incident, but it prompted unhelpful headlines in the French press about old demons resurfacing.
“Not much happened and yet it acquired ridiculous proportions,” complained Alou Diarra.
Worse was to follow, however, as Nasri vented his frustration after the Spain defeat by unleashing a torrent of foul-mouthed abuse at an AFP journalist. The man of the match against England, Nasri was dropped against Spain, and Blanc must now decide whether the Manchester City midfielder is worth the hassle.
For all the fire in the changing room, France lacked a cutting edge on the pitch.
Karim Benzema failed to score in four games, while Franck Ribery only shone in fits and starts and Olivier Giroud was unable to make an impact from the bench.
It leaves Blanc with plenty of food for thought, although he can at least expect to be offered a contract extension after fulfilling the federation’s objective of taking France to the last eight. “I hope Blanc will continue with us. It’s his personal decision, but he knows us well,” said Benzema.