"Without a defence, you can't go very far," Laurent Blanc said. "I hope our back line will be back to its best soon." The 46-year-old France coach knows a thing or two about defending and is also well placed to comment on the demands of a major competition. Capped 97 times in distinguished international career that spanned more than a decade, Blanc was a commanding presence in the heart of the team that clinched world and European titles thanks in no small part to a rock-solid defence.
The current team boasts a fine defensive record under Blanc. They conceded only four goals in ten UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers and kept clean sheets in two of their three recent warm-up matches. Blanc, however, insists more focus is required at the back. He was not impressed by the way Iceland raced in to a two-goal lead in Valenciennes ten days ago and admits Les Bleus were fortunate not to have been punished by Estonia on Wednesday.
"We didn't quite have the right balance against Iceland and made too many individual mistakes against Estonia," said the former FC Girondins de Bordeaux coach, who was addressing the media in Donetsk for the first time following his team's arrival at their base camp last night. "We were solid defensively in qualifying, but the focus hasn't been the same of late. Against Estonia, the centre-backs in particular did not give us the assurance we need."
Blanc nevertheless confirmed that the team he put out against Estonia will be "very close" to the one which faces England in Group D on 11 June, implying that Philippe Mexès will keep his place in central defence alongside Adil Rami. "It would be wrong to question the players after every game," he said. "You'd end up changing the team all the time. The centre-backs didn't have much to do against Estonia. But in games like that you have to make sure the little work you have you do well and simply."
While France's defensive displays have dropped off a little, their attack has suddenly begun firing on all cylinders. Franck Ribéry and Karim Benzema have been especially impressive in the recent friendlies, and Blanc will be counting on those two to unsettle Roy Hodgson's team. "We knew we had quality in attack but the most important thing was to show it," the former Manchester United FC defender explained.
"Ribéry has shown in the last three games he is on the right track and Karim is continuing after a good season with Real Madrid. We shouldn't forget the other players who did well in the first game and then later made good impressions as substitutes. We have different types of attackers, and that's very useful for a coach."
Blanc appears to have settled on a 4-3-3 formation with Ribéry and Samir Nasri on the flanks and Benzema through the middle. Nasri's form has not been as eye-catching as Ribéry's, yet Blanc was quick to support the Manchester City FC playmaker, saying: "He is improving but can still play better. When people say he isn't as penetrative as Franck, I feel like pointing out that they have different qualities."
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