WARSAW: Laurent Blanc is having to work harder all the time to play down expectation stemming from the success of his rebuilding of the team and morale in the wake of World Cup chaos in Suth Africa two years ago.
Blanc was still trying to ignore the message being drawn from a 21-game unbeaten run on the eve of France’s first match at Euro 2012 against England.
He said: “The French team don’t have the same ambitions as Spain or Germany at the start of these European Championships. France, in terms of their results over the last few years, have not allowed us to retain our place in European or world football. People say I often bring this up, but I don’t do that because I like to. It’s the reality. People say we’re favourites in the group, but I don’t agree with that.
“We were in the fourth pot in the draw, and that means something. It’s an open group. France, England, Ukraine and Sweden can all legitimately believe they can get into the latter stages. We are at the same level as the other sides. We hope to get through and justify our status.”
Blanc added: “We’ve had some difficult times, and we’re not going to hide away from them. We’ve been building things little by little, slowly over the last two years, but we qualified – with some difficulty, of course – and we deserve to be here.
“We need to be confident going into these finals. There are some sides who are better than France, but if we can get out of the group stage anything can happen. But we’re no longer one of the top sides in European football, and I should remind you of that.”
Former Manchester United player Blanc expects England to play on the counter-attack and has warned his side to be wary of such tactics. He said: “Essentially, the fact I played in England for two years means I know the English players’ mentality. I just saw Gary Neville a few minutes ago, now coaching with the national team.
“I know what to expect in terms of spirit and strength in the tackles. They’ll be like that tomorrow, maybe even more so. We’ve watched their last two friendly games (against Norway and Belgium). We didn’t learn they were very committed – we knew that. But if they play in the same way they’ll drop back, have a bank of four with some quick players, and try and hit us on the break.
“We need to be wary of that, and make sure we’re not caught off guard. If there’s space in behind, they’ll counter-attack and Steven Gerrard is a great passer of the football.”
Blanc is aware England head coach Roy Hodgson has had little time to put his ideas into practice since succeeding Fabio Capello.
He said: “I’ve done this job for two years, and Mr Hodgson knows it a lot less than me for sure. But it’s difficult to put ideas across to your players. You don’t have a lot of time to work with them, and he’s had far less than me. He’s tried to put across how he wants his side to play.
“I think he’ll try and play in the same way tomorrow – he’s not bluffing – in the hope they understand what he wants from them, individually and collectively. There’ll be two very different footballing philosophies on show tomorrow. I hope the side that plays more football will win the game, but it’s not always the case that it happens in football.”
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