French look to end six years of misery
KIEV - Agence France-Presse
Forward Karim Benzema (R) is yet to score a goal for France in the tournament but the Real Madrid star provided two assists during the 2-0 win over Ukraine. AP photoFrance is looking to end a six year hiatus of failing to qualify for the knockout stages of a major finals here tonight and get the result it needs against already eliminated Sweden in its Euro 2012 Group D match.
The signs are positive for Laurent Blanc’s side that it will both achieve its goal and extend its unbeaten run to 24 matches against what could be a demoralized Swedish side, who is pointless after two successive defeats.
The French could even lose and go through should England, who it leads on goal difference in the group with both on four points, beat co-hosts Ukraine in Donetsk.
However, under Blanc’s wise and steady guidance - in comparison to the chaotic and rollrcoaster ride under predecessor Raymond Domenech - this is not a concept they would entertain.
The team envisages victory and topping the group to set up a quarterfinal against the runners-up of Group C, finishing runner-up would more than likely see the team entertaining the unappetizing prospect of defending champions Spain in the last eight.
Blanc, a member of the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winning sides, said getting the monkey off their backs of winning their first game at a finals in six years in last week’s 2-0 win over co-hosts Ukraine would do their confidence no end of good.
“Every victory is good for confidence, both on a collective and an individual level,” he said. “We know just how hard it is to win a match at a major tournament, so the fact we played well and looked secure at the back is a good thing. It’ll give us courage and a lot of confidence.”
However, Blanc said there was no question of slipping into a mindset that the game was already won and their place in the last eight assured.
“We still need something from the third game,” he said. “We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. Let’s stay humble. We played well yesterday (Friday) and we beat Ukraine. That’s good, but it won’t change the way we prepare for the Sweden match.”
Certainly if the Swedes show the same spirit and not a little skill as they did in the 3-2 loss to England then the French could be in for a real battle.
The Scandinavians’ morale will have been given a timely boost when their star player Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced he would not be retiring form international football despite the early exit.
“Absolutely. My future is with the national side,” said Ibrahimovic, who has scored in three successive Euros. “I will continue to play for them.”