Desailly: England could spring surprise at Euro 2016

1998 FIFA World Cup™ winning centre-back Marcel Desailly knows about dealing with pressure in front of an expectant home crowd, as the defensive backbone of the formidable France side which won the 1998 edition on home soil surprising holders Brazil in the final in Paris.

Marcel Desailly (R) was part of the France team that won the 1998 FIFA World Cup.   -  ACHIM SCHEIDEMANN

1998 FIFA World Cup™ winning centre-back Marcel Desailly knows about dealing with pressure in front of an expectant home crowd, as the defensive backbone of the formidable France side which won the 1998 edition on home soil surprising holders Brazil in the final in Paris.

With his outstanding reading ability of the game and the hard-earned nickname ‘The Rock’, the 47-year-old has won numerous titles at Marseille, AC Milan and Chelsea including two Champions League trophies and the Euro 2000 title with France. In the spotlight of the interview seat, Desailly is as composed as he was with the ball at his feet, and certainly not afraid to make a bold statement.

The centre-back explained why France’s next two opponents in the lead up to Euro 2016 - Germany and England - are his favourites alongside France to lift next summer’s tournament in his home country, and explains why Qatar has turned into a country synonymous with sport.

Marcel, you grew up alongside Didier Deschamps, how do you see his side’s chances of repeating your triumph at Euro 2000?

When we were 14, we started in the academy together. He has all the capacities to lead France to success in Euro 2016. I played by his side and we won all the major titles together such as the 1998 World Cup, Euro 2000 and the Confederations Cup. He has the skills, experience and legitimacy to turn this talented team into a harmonious group. Individually the players have the consistency and the skill level. Now they all have to come together and lift their performance to achieve what everyone hopes for. This is the role of Didier, to find the right collective energy to make a difference. France have won it twice [1984 and 2000], and in 2016 we hope they will make the difference again and be the team that everyone hopes it will be. We have waited a long time since the last title win so we really need a triumphant France again.

Which teams do you see as the main contenders to lift the silverware in France next summer?

Germany will remain candidates together with France, as well as England who can really surprise us. England have an upcoming generation of players, not so experienced but with quality and dynamics which could mean it is their cycle now just as it was during the time of David Beckham. I think England have gone through a low cycle and now they are coming up again with their new generation and a collective dynamic which is very interesting. There may not be the individual players, of course there are Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane, but I think this generation can really do something special as a team. Germany, France and England are the teams that can make a difference.

The French victory on home soil in 1998 became known as a tournament which united a country. Having seen the preparations and progress Qatar is making, what advice do you have to the Qatari players?

Of course I often think back to 1998 and the triumph at home. I hope that the Qatari team can also benefit from that special motivation just as we did in France. Those were absolutely extraordinary emotions and something inexplicable. France, through the diversity of the team of 1998, have shown an example. Now the idea of discovering new regions is very important. Qatar is in Asia, and this diversity will lead to a new comprehension of different cultures. I am very happy with this World Cup being hosted in Qatar, which will allow us to see new things and cultures, as well as experience the impeccable organisational qualities of the hosts. I have seen the progress made in stadium works and transportation plans, and I’m sure it will be a spectacular package and I encourage people to come along and witness it. You just have to imagine a scenario in which all World Cup matches are in one city – fans assembled in Doha can see up to two games a day and feel the atmosphere of the World Cup across the entire city.

You concluded your playing career here in Qatar, how have you seen the development of football in the country since then?

Qatar has become a country of sport and of football. I think the quality of the Qatar Stars League has improved greatly since I came in 2006. Qatar now has credibility in the league, with players no longer coming at the end of their careers. I think that Qatar can make it to Russia 2018.

You were part of the last French team to win the UEFA Champions League. How do you rate the chances of a French team to win it again this year?

The Champions League is very special for me having won it twice. Marseille is still close to my heart and at the moment they are going through some difficulties. There is a group there now which is trying to recover the former glory, Michel, the manager, is bringing his experience to the club. They have to try and finish in the top three or four in the league. PSG is in a phase of their project which is reaching its objectives in its fourth year, I believe in their dynamic which is very strong. PSG can be one of the contenders for this year’s Champions League. There are also teams like Bayern Munich, but everything is possible.

Finally, your other former side Chelsea is not doing well this season to the surprise of many. Based on your own experience, do you see it as a defensive crisis?

Chelsea need to use defensive stability to maintain the balance in the team. Today Chelsea have lost that quality and are putting themselves in difficulty. In addition, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa are not making an impact. So you have a real problem with the main axis of the team. I think it has to be resolved by Mourinho. It is good they have kept him in charge even though he has committed communication errors. But you have to believe in him. Abramovich believes in him, he knows exactly what he’s talking about, and we have to believe that he will rediscover the form of players like Eden Hazard. I hope the professionalism of each player will lift the team back up to the level that everyone expects.

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