Ligue 1's top scorer Olivier Giroud and Olympique Lyonnais midfielder Maxime Gonalons received first France call-ups for the upcoming friendlies against the United States and Belgium, with coach Laurent Blanc demonstrating "a will to give playing time to new players".
The 25-year-old Giroud has registered eight goals in 12 Ligue 1 games for second-placed Montpellier Hérault SC, and may yet follow in the footsteps of Stéphane Guivarc'h in 1998 and Karim Benzema ten years later in earning a place in a French finals squad on the strength of a Golden Boot at home. "It will be emotional," Giroud said as he prepared to link up with Les Bleus for the first time. "Clairefontaine and the France team are legendary, but I think it will be OK."
With six substitutions permitted for friendly matches, Blanc is likely to give the two newcomers a first taste of international action, and there could also be a maiden opportunity for Valencia CF full-back Jérémy Mathieu and Arsenal FC centre-half Laurent Koscielny to show what they can do. With Yohan Cabaye, Loïc Rémy, Florent Malouda and Samir Nasri out injured, Blanc certainly has plenty of spaces to fill in his starting lineup.
France's 1-1 home draw with Bosnia and Herzegovina on 11 October not only secured top spot in UEFA EURO 2012 Group D, it also maintained a 15-game unbeaten run since Les Bleus lost their opening two matches under Blanc. Taking over a side demoralised following a woeful showing at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Blanc, 46 on 19 November, set out his stall "to create a core group of players" – qualification for UEFA EURO 2012 completed the first phase of that mission.
The challenge ahead of their trip to Poland and Ukraine next summer is to expand that core into a star-studded squad, with the games against the United States on Friday and Belgium four days later beginning the process. "I am inclined to field two different teams in these matches to give playing time to new players," explained the former sweeper who helped his country win the 1998 World Cup and UEFA EURO 2000. "
Belgium will probably be the harder game. If any players shine against the US, they might be back for Belgium."
However, Blanc reserves the right to put experiments on hold for the 29 February friendly against Germany. "I am not sure I will give any players another chance [in Bremen]," he said. "We will only have two and a half days to get ready for it – that's not long enough to blend any more new players in. I have told the players I want to give them a run-out with no pressure, so they can play like they do at their clubs."
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