Catch 23: Blanc to blame as France lose unbeaten streak

Les Bleus were uncharacteristically poor against determined opponents, and after the 2-0 defeat, some strange decisions by the coach must be brought under the microscope
 Robin Bairner
 France Expert Follow on


Never before has France coach Laurent Blanc been seriously criticised for the on-field performance of his side, so it seems somewhat churlish to hammer the boss after the end of an unbeaten 23-match streak. It is impossible, however, to overlook the coach's decisions during the miserable 2-0 defeat to Sweden.

Was Blanc foolishly lured into believing that Tuesday's opponents would be overly relaxed? No – that is not his style. But the tactics and team selection he used over the course of a harrowing evening in Kiev cannot be ignored.

Dropped were Jeremy Menez and Yohan Cabaye, France's goalscoring heroes from the comfortable and commanding 2-0 win over Ukraine earlier in the week. While the introduction of Yann M'Vila was widely anticipated, the axing of the Newcastle midfielder was not, although an injury may have played a part in this call.

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On the other hand, the decision to bench Menez with Hatem Ben Arfa stepping in was downright strange. Ben Arfa was a wildcard selection, considered to be the type of player to bring spark off the bench when France were failing – not someone to rely on during a must-win game having played no meaningful role previously.

The performance of the Newcastle winger in itself was largely indifferent, but there can be little doubt that France missed the penetration of Menez. During the first period they passed the ball with incessant determination laterally across a packed defence, looking to find holes that simply were not there because nobody was running in behind in the style of the Paris Saint-Germain man.

Worse still, when it was clear the system was failing, the coach was inert, waiting until the closing stages to introduce his big offensive weapons from the bench, having bizarrely deployed Florent Malouda as his first change.

Blanc tampered with the one aspect of his side that worked very well on Friday, yet the consistent failing of Les Bleus at Euro 2012 has been a flimsy central defensive combination. Do not let statistics fool you; the side defended poorly against both England and Ukraine, and were finally punished by the Swedes.

Adil Rami played like he had boots made of cement and a mind of sand, while Philippe Mexes was only marginally better. That the AC Milan man picked up a second yellow card that rules him out of the Spain quarter-final may be a blessing in disguise, as it will force Blanc's hand into introducing Laurent Koscielny into an area of the team lacking pace. One thing is for sure – it cannot get much worse.

It is not all doom and gloom for France, though. They will return to Donetsk, where they are unbeaten in three previous internationals, and their talented attacking players will no doubt fancy getting at a Spanish defence that has looked almost as uncertain as their own.

Yet come the final whistle on Saturday night, Blanc may well regret the lacklustre attitude of his side against a beatable Swedish outfit, and there can be no doubt that his decisions in an inglorious end to a fine unbeaten run will have played a part.

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