By Robin Bairner | France Expert
Shortly before Uefa’s deadline, Laurent Blanc finalised his France squad for Euro 2012. There was no surprise when he cut ailing Olympique Lyonnais playmaker Yoan Gourcuff from his panel, but the decision to trim versatile Montpellier defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa will doubtless be greeted with some scepticism.
On Sunday, France disappointed defensively against Iceland. While they recorded an impressive 33 efforts on goal at the offensive end, they looked brittle and uncertain at the back, with the form of experienced players Philippe Mexes and Patrice Evra certainly cause for concern. Now Blanc has left himself a choice of only three centre-backs, meaning his 23-man panel - which is heavy in midfield - is susceptible to injury and suspension problems defensively.
Yanga-Mbiwa is also a different kind of centre-back to Mexes, Adil Rami and Laurent Koscielny. He exceeds the trio athletically, and would have provided cover in a back four that can often be found too square. Had he even a touch of top-level experience, he would almost certainly have made the grade.
|BLANC'S SQUAD FOR EURO 2012
||Manchester City||Philippe Mexes
||Manchester United||Anthony Reveillere
|Hatem Ben Arfa
|Yohan Cabaye||Newcastle||Blaise Matuidi
|Alou Diarra||Marseille||Samir Nasri||Manchester City|
||Rennes||Franck Ribery||Bayern Munich|
|Marvin Martin||Sochaux||Mathieu Valbuena||Marseille|
||Real Madrid||Jeremy Menez
Gourcuff’s omission, by contrast, is not a great surprise. Plagued by injury and a loss of form, the Lyon playmaker was given an audition against Iceland in Valenciennes. While criticism of his performance in the French media was harsh – he generally used the ball well and showed a good range of passing – he was lacking in sharpness around the box and really can’t quibble with the axe.
His loss will not hamper an attack already blessed with great creative talent, but where France will have a concern is a lack of goalscoring threat.
Karim Benzema will lead the line, but he is not a natural No.9, and there is little prospect of Blanc reshuffling his squad to include both the Real Madrid striker and Olivier Giroud, who for all his promise at this lofty level has yet to prove himself definitively.
Blanc’s 4-2-3-1 system should be considered almost set in stone, yet Benzema aside, where will the goals arrive from? Franck Ribery has admitted to being teased over his poor international scoring record, while the likes of Samir Nasri, Mathieu Valbuena, Florent Malouda and Jeremy Menez are not noted for being regulars on the scoresheet either.
Stifled by Iceland successfully for long periods, France need to find a new dimension to their attacking play if they’re faced with any packed defensive lines, the kind of which Roy Hodgson’s England may well be primed to deploy, while their own rearguard does not look in the greatest of shape either.
After Sunday’s narrow victory, achieved in the last six minutes, Blanc confessed that France “are not ready” for the competition, and the next two weeks will be vital in ironing out their weaknesses.
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