England, France set for Group D opener
KRAKOW ENGLAND and France launch their respective quests for major tournament redemption on Monday in a high-stakes Group D collision that neither side can afford to lose. Two years ago, England and France departed the World Cup in South Africa in disgrace after a series of abysmal performances that saw both teams making painfully early exits from the competition.
England were sent packing 4-1 by Germany in the last 16, while France’s players triggered a national inquiry after a firstround elimination which followed Les Bleus’ notorious training ground mutiny. Since the nadir of South Africa, France has regrouped impressively, finding a greater sense of unity and cohesion under the guidance of coach Laurent Blanc, who replaced the hapless Raymond Domenech.
Blanc has overseen a resurgence in French fortunes since taking over, lifting them from the low of 27th in the FIFA rankings in 2010 to 14th. More impressively, the French have arrived at the Euros with the look of a team that is hitting form at the right time. A fluid 4-0 demolition of Estonia on Monday stretched France’s unbeaten streak to 21 games, a run that includes 15 wins and only six draws, while their victims have included Brazil, Germany — and England.
Blanc also has few selectorial issues to resolve, with only an ankle injury to Yann M’Vila giving him a headache ahead of Monday’s opener at the Donbass Arena in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk.
Alou Diarra is expected to deputise for M’Vila as France line-up in a familiar 4-3-3 which will be spearheaded by the attacking triumvirate of Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery.