Blanc: France still trails Germany
CLAIREFONTAINE, France (AP)
AROUND THE WORLD ...
Despite France's improvement to remain undefeated in its past 17 matches, coach Laurent Blanc is under no illusions how far behind his team still trails sides like Spain and Germany.
France plays Germany in a friendly on Wednesday in what will be a further test of how far it has progressed since Blanc took over following a disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign which plummeted French football to an all-time low.
France has beaten Brazil and England in friendlies but was labored in European Championship qualifying, only sealing advancement on the final day after tense 1-1 home draw against Bosnia.
''You need a lot of time to establish your way of playing, a lot of time to put a playing style into place. You can talk about it all you like but it's the most difficult thing to do,'' Blanc said Monday at the team's training camp. ''Our game is less developed than Spain, Germany or the Netherlands, that is a certainty.''
Blanc says the reality of France's dismal record in tournaments since it lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy is proof that having talented players at some of Europe's biggest clubs counts for relatively little.
''When was the last time France won a match in a major tournament? Portugal (in the 2006 World Cup semifinal),'' Blanc said, reflecting on failures at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup in which France exited both times in the group stage.
Germany reached the Euro 2008 final, losing to Spain, which also beat the Germans in the 2010 World Cup semifinal.
Even though Germany coach Joachim Loew says the result of Wednesday's game is unimportant, Blanc sees things differently - perhaps understandably as France needs to prove itself far more than Germany does.
''I'm very happy to be playing Germany. It's always good to be playing against one of the big football nations,'' Blanc said. ''They went through a lean spell between 1998-2002 but they got back quickly, and now they're among the top nations in the world.
''Their game is based on speed and impact. Germany really go all out on attack and try and shove your head under water, to show how much they're dominating you. It will be a tough physical challenge as well.''
France striker Louis Saha describes Germany's exciting brand of play as a dangerous mixture between ''English commitment and almost Brazilian-like skill.''
Blanc thinks the main difference is not talent - France boasts Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri, Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema - but the ability to consistently perform on the big stage.
Benzema, who will miss the Germany match because of a groin injury, is one of the few France players who played consistently well during the Euro 2012 qualifiers and is considered untouchable in the current side when fit.
''We have players who aren't able to carry over their club form into the national team, we're also lacking in character and experience in midfield,'' Blanc said, underlining how the absence of the injured Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby hinders France.
''We can't hide behind absentees, even though of course we would rather have Diaby. But we have to make do with the players we have.''
France has lost only twice since Blanc took charge - 2-1 at Norway in a friendly and then 1-0 at home to Belarus in its first Euro 2012 qualifier. Those were his first two games in charge, and the team has steadily improved since.
''It would be good to keep the unbeaten run going until the Euros, whatever helps our confidence heading into the tournament is good for us. But it will come to an end one day,'' Blanc said. ''I hope some positive things happen to us between now and the Euros, but the most important thing is actually being strong during the competition.''
France plays England, Sweden and co-host Ukraine at Euro 2012.