Following Friday’s thunderous victory over Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine, France are in confident mood ahead of their final Group D match against Sweden on Tuesday. Les Bleus need just a point to qualify for the quarter-finals and if they can secure top spot they would likely avoid defending champions Spain.
France registered their first competitive victory at a tournament in six years on Friday when they saw off Ukraine in rain-swept Donetsk and Yohan Cabaye was one of the scorers.
"The coach selected a team he felt was capable of getting in behind the Ukrainian defence,” said the Newcastle midfielder. “We knew that their full-backs push up a lot and that's how we scored the first goal. For my first international goal, it is something that will live with me forever. When you score such an important goal you think of your loved ones. The memory of this goal will last a long, long time."
Franck Ribery is one part of the well-oiled attacking line-up that Laurent Blanc currently has at his disposal and the Bayern Munich man was delighted at how les Bleus fared despite the difficult conditions on Friday. However he insisted that there is much more to come from the French, particularly following the addition of Jeremy Menez to the starting line-up.
Speaking after the game Ribéry said: "Ménez needs to feel the confidence. Tonight he didn't lose his confidence despite those chances he missed. I told him: 'Keep going, you are going to win this for us!' The coach spoke to him too and that gave him a boost.”
"It's been six years since we last won a tournament match - that's massive. We let our hair down and we enjoyed ourselves. We have a young team, we always want to attack and score goals. The win is fantastic and now we have to build on it.”
The form of Karim Benzema and his tendency to drop back to create chances for his international teammates has led to questions over Blanc’s reluctance to start Montpellier hitman Olivier Giroud with the Real Madrid man tucked in behind him in the number 10 role. Despite only seeing action from the bench so far, Giroud remains upbeat about his experiences so far and is itching for his country to secure a berth in the quarter-finals.
“The Ukraine team came out to play football and that left us more space,” observed Ligue 1’s joint-top goalscorer last season. “The England team was very defensive. This evening we imposed our rhythm on the game from the outset, which is something we didn’t do against England. We were very good going forward, creating a lot of chances. However, the team has not reached its full potential yet."
Although left relatively untested in the Ukraine clash, goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris has been impressed by what he has seen so far from his teammates and in particular heaped praise upon Benzema.
"We won the battle for the midfield. We are a very young side and we need confidence to play well. Tonight we were very focused and determined to win. It's very important in this type of competition to keep improving, keep getting stronger and stronger. To qualify for the quarter-finals will be great to start with. We're growing in confidence thanks to the results and we always go out to win.”
“Karim Benzema was the difference again this evening. He set up both goals and worked hard for the team. He really is a great player."
With no major doubts and expected to make no changes to his starting line-up, Laurent Blanc is in a strong position heading into the clash against a Sweden side who know that they are already out of the tournament. Yann M’Vila is fit and could return but was overlooked in favour of Alou Diarra against Ukraine and Blanc is expected to stick with his former Bordeaux captain.
Manchester City’s Samir Nasri was delighted with the improved performance against Ukraine and is already casting an eye towards the knockout stages.
"We had the heart to win the Ukraine game, the opposite of what we did against England when we drew."
“We are feeling really good currently and in a positive mindset. We want to qualify. Whether we play Spain or not in the quarter-finals, it will be hard.”
"If you want to excel in this tournament you will have to play and beat the Spaniards and other big teams."
France take on Sweden on Tuesday in Kiev looking to retain top spot in Group D.
France are set to open their Euro 2012 campaign against England in Donetsk on Monday and whilst their preparations since the final warm-up victory over Estonia have not gone perfectly, Laurent Blanc still has more positive than negative headaches.
Although les Bleus’ first training session in their base in Kirsha was disrupted by a torrential downpour, Karim Benzema and a number of others have missed training through injury, it has done little to dampen the general optimism surrounding the side.
Leading the praise is former captain Zinedine Zidane who considers France one of the tournament’s main threats thanks to the form of influential duo Benzema and Franck Ribéry.
"This France side has the potential to do something great at the Euros" he told French radio station RTL last week. "With the Ribéry-Benzema partnership in such good form, they could really achieve something.”
"I hope they make a bright start in the tournament" he continued. "The opening game is so important but it won't be easy against England."
In addition to Benzema’s recent absence because of a back problem, Steve Mandanda, Blaise Matuidi, Yann M’Vila, Patrice Evra and Alou Diarra have also been spending time in the cryotherapy chamber. However, it is only M’Vila and Matuidi who are expected to miss the opening clash.
Benzema, who has been in inspired form in France’s recent games insists he will be fine for the England match and is excited about les Bleus’ chances in Poland and Ukraine.
"I feel good and it has been great to be in goalscoring form coming into the tournament. Sometimes you score, other times you don't. But I always stay calm. You must never panic. An attacker has to be part of the team play. Part of my game is to make space for my teammates. We're looking good after three very good matches. We're ready for the Euros."
Much is being made of the strong rapport that has been built-up by the Real Madrid striker and Bayern Munich’s Ribéry, and Benzema is delighted with their recent form.
"We've been playing so long together, Franck and I! We already showed our strong understanding in the last game. It's easy to play with him.”
Ribéry for his part says: "I would have liked my relationship with the France team to have always been this good. But it's especially good with Karim. We can find each other with our eyes closed. What's more, we get along really well away from football in our everyday life.”
The pair combined to devastating effect in France’s most recent warm-up match, a 4-0 win over Estonia, with both players getting on the scoresheet and providing for one another. A backheel assist for Ribéry’s goal was followed by a brace of his own for Benzema and the duo were in imperious form.
Following victories over Iceland (3-2) and Serbia (2-0) France ended their preparations in style and the Estonia result extends their unbeaten run to 20 matches going into the opening Group D clash with England. If the pair can maintain this form going into their next few games then les Bleus can harbour realistic designs on claiming the trophy, not just making it to the latter stages.
In-form France winger Franck Ribéry believes Les Bleus are in top shape going into their Euro 2012 opener with England in Donetsk on Monday defending a 21-match unbeaten run and recently spoke to the French media in Ukraine.
The squad arrived in Donetsk to set up their base and were immediately greeted by a howling storm. Having beaten minnows Estonia in their last warm-up match confidence is high as France approach the tournament and according to Ribéry the squad are more united than two years ago in South Africa.
"The training centre here is superb and we feel really comfortable" said the Bayern Munich star who is a survivor of the ill-fated 2010 World Cup campaign and appreciates the improved atmosphere. "The important thing is that we're all here together. It feels good."
The unity under Laurent Blanc has been clear in some of les Bleus’ recent performances and the preparatory matches against Iceland, Serbia and Estonia have produced some fantastic attacking play, superb goals and Ribéry in particular has played a key role. However, the former Marseille man is keeping his feet on the ground.
"We played well in the three friendly matches. We played some good football but there is still work to be done. We'll work hard in training to be ready for England but we're not putting pressure on ourselves ahead of the game. We'll prepare calmly and try to enjoy our football. "
Ribéry has not let the pressure get to him and realises the role he now plays in the team. When explaining how he is preparing to take on England
"I have a big responsibility here," he admits. "I'm one of the players who has been in the side for a while. But it's going well, and it's great to see France put this unbeaten run together. We're full of confidence and we’re looking to turn in a great performance in this tournament.”
"We'll do everything we can to win the Euro. Our last two big competitions haven't gone too well and we're aiming to make it through our group and into the quarter-finals. After that, anything is possible."
If Ribéry can recreate his form from last season with Champions League finalists Bayern Munich then every defence in the competition will have cause for concern. However, the native of Boulogne-sur-Mer credits current coach Blanc with his turnaround at international level.
"He has always shown his belief in me, and so has his assistant, Jean-Louis Gasset" declared Ribéry. "We've spoken a lot and they even came to Munich to talk with me. That's huge. Things were tough for a while and people were talking about me for all the wrong reasons, which was pretty annoying. But Laurent gave me the breathing space to build my confidence back up, especially in relation to the France fans, which is what happened in our recent friendly matches. I'm very happy to have the confidence of the man in charge."
With Ribéry full of confidence and in-form this European Championships could be the making of him. Highly-rated despite never really having delivered in the blue of his country, the wide man is now the key figure in the current les Bleus makeup and will be aiming to make up for lost time. Don’t bet against him and France finally delivering on their vast potential.