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Sagnol defends French philosophy

Willy Sagnol says France will continue to employ their safety-first approach against the Netherlands and has faith they will come good in Group C after a slow start.

Willy Sagnol in action against Romania
Willy Sagnol in action against Romania ©Getty Images

Despite France's failure to open their goalscoring account at the first attempt, defender Willy Sagnol says they will continue to employ a safety-first approach in their second Group C match against the Netherlands at the Stade de Suisse.

Defensive duties
Les Bleus have earned criticism in some quarters for not taking more risks in Monday's 0-0 draw with Romania. With midfielders Claude Makelele and Jérémy Toulalan sticking close to the back four, and full-backs Sagnol and Eric Abidal focusing almost exclusively on defensive duties, the French were solid yet created little. There have been calls for a more expansive display against the Dutch yet Sagnol believes it would be unwise to suddenly change the team's philosophy. "Over the last few years, we've made defending well our priority," the FC Bayern München right-back explained.

'Never-ending debate'
"We know that if we keep it tight we have a good chance of winning. With players like Thierry Henry, Karim Benzema, Franck Ribéry and Nicolas Anelka we'll always have chances." When asked if he himself might play more adventurously, Sagnol refused to make any promises, saying: "The question of whether a defender should try to attack or concentrate only on defending is a never-ending debate. The priority has to be making sure you don't concede. Then, if you sense you have a possibility to get forward, you should do it."

Slow starters
The defensive philosophy has served France well in recent times. Clean sheets against Brazil and Portugal in the latter stages of the 2006 FIFA World Cup sealed their place in the final, and the mean streak continued in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2008™ with just five goals conceded in 12 games. That strength at the back, and France's reputation for being slow starters, lead Sagnol to believe they will emerge unscathed from the most testing of sections. "I don't know why we are slow starters, but sometimes it's better to have a slow start and then improve as the tournament progresses," the 31-year-old said.

'Winning formula'
Referring back to the World Cup, when Raymond Domenech's men also began with a goalless draw, Sagnol said: "Italy and France didn't play the best football at the World Cup but ended up in the final. Spain and Argentina, on the other hand, were flamboyant in the group phase but didn't get much further. It's difficult to find the balance. At the World Cup we found a winning method towards the end. But even against Brazil we didn't have many chances and scored from a free-kick. Then against Portugal we scored from a penalty."

Dutch threat
Sagnol's cautious stance may have been influenced by the outstanding Dutch performance against Italy on Monday. "They were impressive," the former AS Saint-Etienne player said. "Italy's defence is usually their strong point, yet the Netherlands found a way through. We'll need to be careful because even if we have the ball, they can be dangerous. With players like [Rafael] Van der Vaart, [Wesley] Schneider and [Dirk] Kuyt, they get forward quickly. The key for us will be to find a mix between attacking and defending."