Hugo Lloris is so softly-spoken, polite and discreet it is hard to imagine him asserting himself in the heat of a ferocious battle. Yet that is what France's laid-back captain has been doing with distinction for both Olympique Lyonnais and Les Bleus this season, and he will not be backwards in coming forward during Monday's Group D opener against England.
The goalkeeper expects Roy Hodgson's team to pepper his penalty area with aerial balls and is bracing himself for a busy evening rushing off his line. "As a goalkeeper, you always study your opponents," he told UEFA.com. "The English are strong on set pieces and play a lot on the wings, looking to get crosses in. Our aim is to be ready and to impose our own style. It's a game we really need to win."
Although England are missing some important players, Lloris will not be taking them lightly. "The absence of Wayne Rooney is good for us, but despite all the absentees they remain a very competitive side," he said. "The English have an impeccable spirit and they're born competitors. It'll be tough but also an exciting match to play in."
France have lost some key figures to injury too. However, it says much about the progress that has been made that some are still tipping them as outsiders for the title. The 1984 and 2000 European champions arrived in Ukraine on the back of a 21-match unbeaten run that includes friendly wins against England, Brazil and Germany – and most recently Iceland, Serbia and Estonia.
Could Laurent Blanc's charges have wished for a smoother build-up? "Preparations can never be perfect but you can get close," Lloris said. "We had many details to iron out, but overall it was very positive. We got better match after match. We have a young squad with limited international experience. The youngsters want to prove themselves in a France shirt. We do have a few experienced players and they help tie the squad together."
Despite being only 25, Lloris, who has 33 caps, includes himself in the latter category. "Our job is to make sure the young players fulfil their potential," he explained. "Hopefully we can compensate for our lack of experience with our freshness, enthusiasm and a little bit of craziness. There have been positive signs but the real tests start on Monday."
Lloris is reserved by nature. Yet it is easy to understand why he wants to keep expectations in check. Les Bleus have not won a match at a major tournament in their last seven attempts and the memories of their disappointing 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign remain fresh in the mind. "Since 2006, France have had a hard time," said Lloris. "We have to learn from our mistakes. We need to play freely, enjoy ourselves and ensure we finish without regrets this time."
As far as Lloris is concerned, a fast start would be ideal. In both 2008 and 2010, France opened their campaigns with goalless draws. Victory against England would be proof the pattern is changing. "We won't have any time to think about things," Lloris stressed. "We're coming up against a strong team straight away. That can be an advantage because if we win, it'll give us a lot of confidence."
With France and England seen by many as section favourites, might a draw be satisfactory? "You start every game wanting to win," he insisted. "We're preparing ourselves to give our best and we'll try to win." The message is clear: Lloris and France have had enough of being also-rans. They mean business.
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