Laurent Blanc’s Bleus play their first competitive match in Paris on Friday evening, looking for a good start to a new chapter...
The World Cup is finally being forgotten in France, and the Laurent Blanc era begins at the Stade de France on Friday when Belarus visit.
Scars caused by the summer’s events in South Africa are slowly starting to heal, and already Blanc has shown he will be a very different leader to predecessor Raymond Domenech. Out have gone a whole host of World Cup participants – including Patrice Erva, Franck Ribery, Nicolas Anelka and Jeremy Toulalan, who have been banned much to the chagrin of the former Girondins de Bordeaux coach – and in come fresh faces, many discarded under the previous regime.
But the confidence of les Bleus remains fragile. A fringe France squad was defeated in Norway in early August, though Blanc had suspended all 23 members of the World Cup squad from that encounter. Positives were drawn from that match and the side is looking towards the future with optimism, though at the same time the past is not being forgotten.
Blanc, himself a French footballing icon after his exploits at the 1998 World Cup, has rallied figures such as Fabien Barthez to help him prepare the side, while legendary midfielder Zinedine Zidane even made an appearance at training on Wednesday to help inspire this new generation of hopefuls.
For too long France struggled in the shadow of Domenech, and the damage caused by his ineptitude will take months rather than merely weeks to heal. Friday’s encounter is the first step back towards the true Bleus.
Play-Offs A Minimum
Belarus will be aiming to take advantage of the fact that France are to some extent picking through the rubble of their World Cup campaign and are approaching this fixture with a newly reworked set-up.
Over the course of their history, the former Soviet state have persistently finished fourth or fifth in their qualifying sections, with the exception being a third spot as they attempted to reach the 2002 World Cup. Despite having only got moderately close to reaching a major finals once, head coach Bernd Stange maintains high hopes for his side.
“We face difficult opponents and it will be very hard for us,” he confessed to UEFA’s official website. “However, our aim is to qualify to the finals. Our minimum task is to reach the play-offs. We have to try to take our chance.”
France away cannot be one of the fixtures that the Belarusians have targeted as potentially yielding points, meaning that they approach the match with few expectations. Anything that can be picked up in Paris must be considered a massive bonus and would set up the side perfectly for an encounter against Romania at home on Tuesday perfectly.
After beating Lithuania 2-0 in an August friendly away from home thanks to a couple of goals from Vyacheslav Hleb, the Belarus side should at least hold out hope of an upset.
Laurent Blanc’s preparation hasn’t exactly gone smoothly in this last week. Lassana Diarra has been ruled out because of injury, while there is also a significant doubt over the fitness of Karim Benzema. Yohan Cabaye, who was called up as a possible injury replacement, has himself picked up a physical ailment and will be absent. Blaise Matuidi has been added to the squad as a result.
Only nine of the World Cup squad have been convened, with Patrice Erva, Franck Ribery, Nicolas Anelka and Jeremy Toulalan banned by the FFF (French FA). Toulalan’s ban is only of the one-match variety, but he has not been included in the squad that will face Bosnia on Tuesday as he is not playing in his usual central midfield role for Lyon.
Yoann Gourcuff is suspended for two matches following his red card against South Africa at the World Cup.
Probable Starting XI: Lloris; Sagna, Mexes, Rami, Clichy; Diaby, A. Diarra, M’Vila; Remy, Hoarau, Malouda
Coach Bernd Stange has named the same 21-man panel that he used for an August friendly against Lithuania, electing to overlook Dmitri Verkhovtsov, Timofei Kalachev and Leonid Kovel as they are not up to match speed.
Probably Starting XI: Amelchenko; Shitov, Martynovich, Molosh, Omelyanchuk; A. Hleb, Tigorev, Putsila, Kulchiy; Rodionov, V. Hleb
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