France still progressed to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 despite a dour 2-0 loss to Sweden in the final Group D game on Tuesday. It is the first time since 2006 that France have escaped from the group stages of an international tournament and they now face Spain. However, the French camp is now clouded in controversy as in-fighting threatens to de-rail les Bleus’ Euro hopes.
Laurent Blanc can have no complaints about the match; his side were second best for the entire 90 minutes and could have lost by a greater margin. However, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s contender for goal of the tournament and Sebastian Larsson’s late second were the least Erik Hamren’s men deserved and Blanc’s 23-match unbeaten run as France manager crashed to a close.
Blanc will have had time to reflect upon his team selection ahead of Saturday’s clash with the defending champions and given how well he played against Ukraine and how his replacement Hatem Ben Arfa struggled to impose himself on the Swedes. The decision to swap Yohan Cabaye for Yann M’Vila will also be a point of debate for the manager, the change making France more defensive with two natural holding midfielders in the side.
France were slow and laboured giving off the air of a team that expected to advance and were not particularly worried about the threat Sweden posed, but more worryingly for les Bleus is the fact that the team were once again restricted to long shots and half chances by a side with a well-organised defence but relatively little in terms of star quality. It does not bode well ahead of a showdown with the likes of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique that Benzema and co could not find a way to put Andreas Isaksson under any sort of meaningful sustained pressure.
Ibrahimovic’s goal sparked the side into life but still it wasn’t enough to galvanise the side into finding the breakthrough and at the other end of the pitch Philippe Mexes had a torrid time trying to deal with Ola Toivonen and Ibrahimovic, the French defence falling apart after its first thorough examination.
It wasn’t until after the match though that the damage became clear; substitute Olivier Giroud speaking out after the match about a “shouting match” in the changing room and Blanc himself confirming the Montpellier man’s claims.
"When there's a victory, you accept things more and you're happier," he said.
"It kicked off a bit because all the players felt that everyone hadn't given everything. To win these types of matches, you have to play well and be committed.
"When you've lost, you're more hot-blooded. It got heated, but we all cooled down after a good shower.”
With rumours of a divided camp having already been dismissed, Blanc does appear to have a number of egos in the side that need to be appeased. Samir Nasri’s name in particular has been linked with a number of flashpoints that have increased the tension within the side, but with little over 24 hours to go until kick-off Blanc is trying to take some positives out of his squad’s reaction to the defeat.
"When you feel something, you have to say it. It's not just down to the technical staff.”
"The players have to talk to each other because it can be constructive. It shows that there's a reaction, some electricity. I hope that there will be some more against Spain, but in the right sense."
One thing France do have in their favour ahead of Saturday night: when they last met Spain in the quarter-final of a major tournament six years ago, they beat them to progress to the final.