France have to return to the 'top echelon' of world football, says Samir Nasri

The Manchester City midfielder believes Les Bleus have a point to prove after their disappointment at the World Cup, and hopes to avoid Spain in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012
 FRANCE 10 21
10 20
 ROMANIA 10 14
 BELARUS 10 13
By Francisco Delgado

Samir Nasri believes France fans will see their side return to the "top echelon" of the game and hopes Les Bleus can make a statement at Euro 2012 this summer.

Laurent Blanc's side face England, Ukraine and Sweden in Group D, kicking off against Roy Hodgson's men next Monday in Donetsk, and the French will begin the continental competition in confident mood having thrashed Estonia 4-0 in their last warm-up match on Tuesday.

Nasri, who played the first 73 minutes of that friendly, believes France have come a long way since their first-round failure under Raymond Domenech at the World Cup in South Africa two years ago.

"France have grown and we improved in the qualification for the Euros," he told in an exclusive interview. "It wasn't easy because we didn't start well, but we showed a glimpse of what this team could be in just a small amount of time."

France coach wants his team to be at their best for opening clash with England
Nasri, then at Arsenal, was surprisingly left out of the World Cup squad by Domenech, but has become a key member of the France side under Blanc and scored the goal which sealed his country's direct passage to Euro 2012 when he converted a late penalty against Bosnia-Herzegovina back in October.

"I was incredibly happy after my goal that qualified us automatically for the Euros," he explained. "It's a team job but it always feels good to take advantage when you have chances and it did me a lot of good."

France's campaign in South Africa was blighted by problems on and off the pitch as Les Bleus failed to win any of their three group games and saw their hopes wrecked by player unrest and in-fighting.

And Nasri added: "I was left out of the list for the 2010 World Cup and that hurt me a lot, but after everything that happened, perhaps it was a good thing I missed that tournament."

The 24-year-old claims the atmosphere is much better under former World Cup winner Blanc.

"I feel I am on a good wavelength with our coach Blanc," he revealed. "He speaks to us and explains exactly what he wants from you and that's very important these days because it gives confidence to a footballer."

Following an impressive qualifying campaign, France are seen by some as a strong outside bet for glory in Poland and Ukraine, and Nasri hopes they can restore some pride to the country's suffering supporters.

"French football fans became accustomed to the good times some decades back and now that things aren't going well, I can understand they are disappointed," the Manchester City midfielder explained. "But we are going to change that. We have to return France to the top echelon of world football. That's why we have so much to play for in this European Championship."

First priority, however, is advancing to the quarter-finals of the competition and should they do so, the former Marseille man hopes France can avoid a meeting with defending champions Spain.

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"This Euro will be very hard and even advancing past the first round will be a success," he said. "If we achieve it, we don't want to meet Spain in the next round. But we have to take it game by game and not get over-excited. We have to keep our feet on the ground."

And whatever success France do enjoy at the Euros, the team will dedicate it to team-mate Eric Abidal, still laid low as he recovers from a liver transplant that he underwent in April.

"Abidal's absence has been a huge blow for everyone in a personal and a sporting sense," Nasri stated. "The important thing is his health. Whatever we do in the Euro we will dedicate it to him."

Those thoughts were echoed by Nasri's team-mate for club and country, Gael Clichy, who told in a separate interview: "What has happened with Abidal is a shame and we are all keeping a close eye on his progress. We hope he gets better.

"Perhaps if it hadn't happened to him, he would be in the squad and I would be on holiday at home, but these things happen in football.

"We all want to toast French success at the Euro to Eric."