Gutless France waste golden opportunity

Discontent hampers Les Bleus

No backbone, no team leader and a coach considering his future - France exited Euro 2012 with mutterings of discontent again in the air on Saturday, two years after their humiliating World Cup exit marked by off-pitch drama.

 

Laurent Blanc's side were dismissed 2-0 by holders Spain in the quarterfinals, a performance that gave little indication of a bright future ahead for the team.

Disenchanted midfielder Samir Nasri, left on the bench until midway through the second half, let fly with a volley of abuse at a French reporter afterwards, reflecting the disharmony in the French camp. Hopes had been high after an opening 1-1 draw against England was followed up by a solid 2-0 victory over co-hosts Ukraine. 

But a 2-0 defeat against Sweden in their final group game exposed tensions in the dressing room with coach Blanc involved in a row with forward Hatem Ben Arfa and players singling out Nasri's individualism. The France staff insisted that the situation could not be compared to the 2010 World Cup, when the players went on strike in support of striker Nicolas Anelka who had been kicked out of the squad for insulting then coach Raymond Domenech. But midfielder Florent Malouda, in an obvious reference to the South Africa fiasco, said the situation had woken up some "demons". 

France were also far from brilliant on the pitch. They thought they had a world class striker in Karim Benzema, but the Real Madrid player failed to find the back of the net in four appearances. Benzema played too deep and although he created space for his team-mates, France only scored three goals in four games. 

The central defence was too shaky, and Blanc had to wait for Philippe Mexes to be suspended against Spain to field Laurent Koscielny, who proved in just one game that he was probably the better partner for Adil Rami. Les Bleus, who were left chasing shadows in the midfield against Spain, could not rely on a club backbone like the world champions, Germany or Italy. 

"We know that great nations rely on strong clubs," said Blanc. "It was our case a long time ago. Even England have players who play together at Chelsea or Manchester United. We don't have that. It's not our case anymore and it's not going to get any better." 

France badly missed having a leader on the pitch. "No one stands out as a leader on the pitch," assistant coach Alain Boghossian said earlier this week. "You can't just click your fingers and say 'let's hope a leader' comes, or point the finger at someone and designate him as the leader. Either the leader comes naturally, or if there isn't one then you do things another way." 

Whether Blanc, linked with coaching jobs in the Premier League, will stay is uncertain. "We are going to think about it in the next few days. There will be satisfactions and disappointments. You will see what happens," he said. France are already pressed by time, however, as they kick off their World Cup 2014 qualification campaign against Finland in September. 

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