Failure not an option for French

FRANCE have been amongst the most impressive teams in Euro 2012 so far but the beauty of tournament football is that Laurent Blanc’s carefully constructed plans could fall apart if they lose to Sweden in Kiev tonight.

Les Bleus’ unbeaten run currently stands at a hugely impressive 23 matches, but if they fail to make it 24 they could well be on the first plane back to Paris.

All the talk at the pre-match press conference was about whether Blanc intended to rest players ahead of their quarter-final tie, but the urbane former Barcelona, Manchester United and Inter Milan defender was having none of it.

His tone brokered no argument. France are not here to be tourists, he insisted. This is a country that has veered between triumph and disaster and simply do not know which of the two imposters is going to accost them next.

For so long it has been the latter. Since their twin triumphs of the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship they have flattered to deceive, to say the least. In 2002 they failed to win a match or even score a goal, and two years ago came the nadir in South Africa as the players went on strike over the decision to expel Nicolas Anelka from the squad for criticising coach Raymond Domenech.

Blanc has rebuilt that side, rehabilitating some members while evicting others. There is a growing feeling that he has restored the pride in French football, and that the country almost needs his project to succeed. If it fails at this early stage, confidence would be lost and may take a generation to return.

With talents such as Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery at his disposal Blanc would have few reasons to complain if his team do not fulfil their potential.

And yesterday he could not have made it more clear that failure is not an option as the pressure begins to build.

He said: “The further you go the more pressure you feel. To get over it we must manage the boys well.

“The last game is always decisive when you have drawn your first one. This is now decisive and it’s the situation we find ourselves in.

“If we are lucky and go through then the games will continue to be decisive as it will be the knockout stage. If we lose we will be out. We must focus now. We are not here to be tourists.

“I always fear a team might take their eye off the ball after a good win. We must be serious and aware of what we want to achieve. We want to go as far as possible. We will concentrate on our team as a whole and the work we have done so far is excellent.”

Pre-tournament fears over the defence have so far proved unfounded, although there are surely going to be much bigger tests over the next fortnight if France do go all the way.

Yet the work Blanc has done after inheriting the festering, putrid mess left by Domenech has been impressive.

So how has he rebuilt the French team? According to captain Hugo Lloris it all comes down to his philosophy, a desire to see a brand of passing, attacking football that seems slightly at odds with a former defender. Having played at the highest level the respect for Blanc is absolute.

“I think the head coach and his staff are all focussed completely on winning. The philosophy they have brought is appreciated by the players,” said the goalkeeper.

“We are very close to them and have some very positive dialogue. Our common objective is to win and it’s going very well so far. Sweden are out but will play for honour. We must beware of sides that have nothing to play for – we must be focussed.”

And they must be, otherwise Blanc’s work will have been in vain.

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