Searching for the right note

The last few years have been rather tough for France. The 1998 World Cup champion did not win a single game in the last EURO championship in 2008 or in the 2010 World Cup. And its recent 3-2 victory over a lowly Iceland, ranked 115 rungs below it at 131, is enough indication that the Les Bleus has a lot of work to do. By Stan Rayan.

Two years ago, France made news for all the wrong reasons at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. A players' mutiny followed when striker Nicolas Anelka was expelled from the French squad for a verbal attack on coach Raymond Domenech during a match against Mexico.

And last year, a racial ‘quota scandal' rocked the country following allegations that French football chiefs had discussed a secret plan to keep non-white players out of the national squad by limiting the number of young black players entering the selection process through training centres. In fact, the current French coach Laurent Blanc, a member of the team which won the 1998 World Cup, revealed recently that he came close to resigning after being embroiled in the scandal.

The last few years have been rather tough for France. The 1998 World Cup champion did not win a single game in the last EURO championship in 2008 or in the 2010 World Cup. And its recent 3-2 victory over a lowly Iceland, ranked 115 rungs below it at 131, is enough indication that the Les Bleus has a lot of work to do.

Shockingly, Iceland took a two-goal lead in the warm-up game before late goals saved the day for France.

The victory, which carried France's unbeaten run to 19 matches, proves that while the team has enough creativity going forward to get past any opposition, there are big worries at the back where Manchester United's Patrice Evra's negligence allowed Iceland to score twice.

France, which is grouped with England, Sweden and co-host Ukraine in Group ‘D', will be looking to seal all the doors at the back before its June 11 opener against England at Donetsk. Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, who was named as the French Player of Year 2011 by the France Football magazine, is the man to watch in the team which will be led by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

The 24-year-old Benzema, who has his roots in Algeria, had been ignored in France's 2010 World Cup squad but after shedding a few kilos he has matured into a lean and hungry striker. He has scored 13 goals for France from 43 internationals and with his silky touch and eye for goal he will be the key player in Blanc's flexible 4-2-3-1 system.

There are 12 France-based players in Blanc's 23-member squad, led by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, and there are seven players from the English Premier League including two Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri from the champion Manchester City team.

THE TEAM

Goalkeepers: Cedric Carrasso, Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda.

Defenders: Gael Clichy, Mathieu Debuchy, Patrice Evra, Laurent Koscielny, Philippe Mexes, Adil Rami, Anthony Reveillere.

Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye, Alou Diarra, Florent Malouda, Marvin Martin, Blaise Matuidi, Yann M'Vila, Samir Nasri.

Forwards: Hatem Ben Arfa, Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud, Jeremy Menez, Franck Ribery, Mathieu Valbuena.