Nasri: Joe the alternative hero

Samir Nasri has admitted France are relieved they don’t have to face Wayne Rooney in their opening Euro 2012 clash on Monday but has singled out goalkeeper Joe Hart as the man who could prove to be an alternative hero for England if Roy Hodgson’s side are to upset the odds in Donetsk.

Rooney will undoubtedly be missed in a match England know they cannot afford to lose but the form and growing stature of Hart, who plays alongside Nasri at Manchester City, is now becoming the focus of attention not just inside the English camp but also outside too.

Nasri said: “I have been so impressed with Joe since I moved to City and we all know he will be England’s goalkeeper here — and we all know how good he is.

“If I make the team I have to try and beat him and I think I know how — but he’s a great player. It took several months in training to work it out but there are some chinks in his armour. He had such a great season for City and of course he can be a hero for England too.

“We know each other well and the fact we play against each other in the opening game is even more interesting. I hope we both make it through to the second round and then meet again in the final!”

Even the most optimistic Englishman would be unlikely to predict such an outcome, however, especially as talisman Rooney will be missing fro the opening two matches and can only return against the Ukraine in Donetsk on Jun 19.

“Of course England is not just Rooney, we have to remember that. But it’s true it could be important that Rooney is not there,” said Nasri. “Due to the style of his play and what he means to the team I think they will miss him a lot. For France it’s a relief we don’t have to face a player of that quality.

“It’s so important to do well in the first game of a tournament because it can be key in the group. If you lose you have so much pressure on the next two games. A lot is at stake so I think we will be going for a win.”

If England are having problems right now, then France have been through even greater trauma over the last few years, culminating in a disastrous World Cup in which the players threatened to strike after Nicolas Anelka was sent home by controversial manager Raymond Domenech. But the team has been rebuilt by Lauren Blanc and Nasri, left out of the squad in South Africa, has been the spearhead.

“In the World Cup in South Africa we hit rock bottom and our image was shattered. But in the last two years we have changed in every way,” he said. “We are on the right track but with no celebrations just yet. You have to go into each match thinking about just that game.

“I’m not going to say we will win it; but we believe we can do well. Spain and Germany are my favourites to be champions; but not forgetting Holland and the Italians who are tremendously competitive in tournaments. But looking at the way Spain have been playing in recent years they have everything needed to be champions again. It’s up to the rest of us not to make it easy for them.”

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