France coach Laurent Blanc is urging his players to put the "horrible night" in Kyiv behind them and to start focusing on Saturday's mouth-watering UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-final against Spain.
The two-time European champions entered Tuesday's final Group D encounter against already-eliminated Sweden on the back of a 23-match unbeaten run, yet they received a nasty surprise. Erik Hamrén’s men may only have been playing for pride but they dominated for long periods, displaying verve and determination to secure a deserved win with second-half goals from Zlatan Ibrahimović and Sebastian Larsson.
Although Les Bleus still progressed as section runners-up courtesy of England's victory against Ukraine, Blanc was unhappy with the performance and is demanding an improvement. "We didn't do what was needed to win," the 46-year-old said after flying back to Donetsk with the team on Wednesday afternoon. "It was a horrible night for you [the journalists], for us and for the supporters. Now we have to move on. We'll have to show up on Saturday convinced we're capable of beating this Spanish team."
The last time France locked horns with Spain at a major tournament, in the round of 16 of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Franck Ribéry and Florent Malouda finished on the winning side. Blanc, however, conceded much has changed in the last six years. "Spain are world and European champions," he pointed out. "They have a core of players who know each other extremely well. They play spectacular and efficient football. We're trying to follow their example but we're still a long way off."
The former FC Girondins de Bordeaux coach has made two changes ahead of each of France's last two matches. He will have to make at least one more at the weekend, with the suspended Philippe Mexès likely to be replaced by Laurent Koscielny, and Blanc said he might alter the attack as well.
While Ribéry's place is assured, neither Jérémy Ménez nor Hatem Ben Arfa have made the right-wing berth their own, and the ex-FC Barcelona defender hinted he might give Mathieu Valbuena a chance. "Jérémy and Hatem are both capable of penetrating defences, but Mathieu Valbuena could be useful against Spain," said Blanc.
Meanwhile, Blanc denied suggestions Karim Benzema is under pressure after failing to score in the group stage, saying: "Like all strikers, he needs to score. He's frustrated because he hasn't yet, despite having a lot of attempts. I hope he'll get off the mark against Spain."
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