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France start well but fail to go distance

Published: Sunday 24 June 2012, 9.52CET
After France progressed beyond the group stage for the first time in three major tournaments, Matt Spiro assesses a campaign that ultimately ended in disappointment for Les Bleus.
by Matthew Spiro
from Donetsk

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Published: Sunday 24 June 2012, 9.52CET

France start well but fail to go distance

After France progressed beyond the group stage for the first time in three major tournaments, Matt Spiro assesses a campaign that ultimately ended in disappointment for Les Bleus.

France's UEFA EURO 2012 campaign was simmering nicely after a promising opening draw with England and a fine victory over Ukraine, but a 2-0 defeat in their third Group D match by Sweden seemed to hit the side's confidence. After conceding an early goal in the quarter-final against Spain, Les Bleus rarely looked capable of troubling the defending champions and bowed out as Xabi Alonso scored his second of the night, from the spot, late on.

In a nutshell
Although they progressed beyond the group stage for the first time in their last three major tournaments, and extended their impressive unbeaten run to 23 games after victory over the co-hosts, France's self-belief and spirit ultimately proved too fragile. The loss to Sweden – the team's first in nearly two years – should not have had such a damaging impact, but Laurent Blanc admitted he had to work hard to restore calm to the dressing room afterwards. When the going got tough against Spain, the two-time European champions appeared to be just too short on faith and quality to come back.

High point
There was so much for French fans to be pleased with in the 2-0 win against Ukraine. Blanc's charges coped with the freak weather and the raucous home support that roared Oleh Blokhin's men forward at every opportunity. They were strong at the back and clinical up front, with Jérémy Ménez finishing a superb Franck Ribéry-inspired counterattack and the excellent Yohan Cabaye adding a second goal shortly after. It was a performance that had the nation hoping the good times were about to return.

Key man
Blanc summed Cabaye up well when he said: "He is the kind of player you miss when he is not there." France missed Cabaye badly in the group match against Sweden, when he was rested due to a slight thigh problem, and he provided France's most dangerous moment upon his return against Spain, forcing Iker Casillas into a fine save with an accurate free-kick. Cabaye's masterful midfield displays against England and Ukraine had Blanc calling him "indispensable".

Hope for the future
This was not Yann M'Vila's tournament in the end. He was a key player in qualifying and Blanc had him pencilled in as the linchpin of the France midfield. Sadly for the coach and the player, the 21-year-old injured his ankle in a warm-up game against Serbia. Although he returned against Ukraine, coming on in the second half, and started against both Sweden and Spain, the Stade Rennais FC ball-winner lacked sharpness. He should, however, be a big player in years to come.

Vital statistic
One shot on target against Spain was clearly not enough.

Final word
Laurent Blanc: "We ran a lot. I thought the boys gave everything they had. Against Spain, it's difficult ... "

Last updated: 05/12/13 4.33CET

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