France vs. England: Euro 2012 Group D Preview, Team News, Projected Lineups
The signs aren't looking good for England ahead of their Euro 2012 Group D opener with France, with the Three Lions losing four of their last five games against Les Blues.
And to make matters worse for Roy Hodgson's men, the French will be coming into the game on the back of a 4-0 thrashing of Estonia, with scintillating displays from Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery, extending Laurent Blanc's unbeaten run with France to 21 matches.
On the surface at least, it seems England don't stand much of a chance. But with football being football, the cliché "never say never" has never been more true, especially regarding the idiosyncratic world of international tournament football.
So read on, get clued up on all the facts and figures before the big game and make up your own mind as to who will win the most anticipated opening group game of Euro 2012!
England Team News
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Gary Cahill (jaw), Frank Lampard (thigh), Gareth Barry (stomach) and John Ruddy (finger) are all ruled out of the tournament through injury.
But the good news for England is that all of the current 23-man squad took part in training on Tuesday and have flown out to their base in Krakow on Wednesday, with all players expected to be fit for the first game against France.
Chelsea centre-back John Terry was the main concern for Roy Hodgson's side with a hamstring scare but has been declared fit for the Euros.
Final Squad For Euro 2012:
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Robert Green, Jack Butland
Defenders: Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Phil Jones, Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Martin Kelly
Midfielders: Theo Walcott, Stewart Downing, Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Steven Gerrard, Scott Parker, Jordan Henderson, James Milner
Forwards: Andy Carroll, Jermain Defoe, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney
France Team News
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Unlike England, France have had just one major injury concern, with striker Loic Remy ruled out of the tournament with a hip injury.
Remy was in Laurent Blanc's 26-man provisional squad for the tournament, but despite undergoing intensive rehabilitation at Clairefontaine (France's national football centre), he wasn't able to make the final 23.
When the final squad was announced on 29 May, defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and perennial unlucky-man Yoann Gourcuff were the unfortunate ones to also miss the cut.
Since the final squad was announced, France have come through their last two friendlies unscathed.
Final Squad For Euro 2012:
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda, Cedric Carrasso
Defenders: Patrice Evra, Mathieu Debuchy, Philippe Mexes, Adil Rami, Gael Clichy, Anthony Reveillere, Laurent Koscielny
Midfielders: Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri, Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Valbuena, Blaise Matuidi, Yann M'Vila, Alou Diarra, Marvin Martin, Hatem Ben Arfa, Florent Malouda
Forwards: Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud, Jeremy Menez
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England go into Euro 2012 and their first match against France on the back of an unbeaten qualifying run, having ended Group G as winners after winning five and drawing three of their eight matches.
Highlights include convincing wins against Bulgaria (4-0 at home and 3-0 away) and an impressive 3-1 victory away to Switzerland.
However, that was all under Fabio Capello, while with Roy Hodgson in charge, the Three Lions have laboured to 1-0 wins against Norway and Belgium, respectively.
Their form going into the match against Les Blues is solid, if unspectacular.
Psychologically, it could give the England players a boost, knowing they're a more defensively tight unit under Hodgson less likely to concede goals.
However, the team's recent form won't strike much fear into their opponents.
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While England go into Euro 2012 on the back of scoring two goals in two games from their preparation matches, France will go into the tournament on the back of scoring nine goals in three matches.
Les Blues warmed up for the finals in Poland and Ukraine with wins over Iceland, Serbia and Estonia.
The French were unconvincing against Iceland, with poor defending seeing them go 2-0 down at home to a side ranked 117 places below them in the FIFA World Rankings.
However, they battled back to win 3-2 and went on to convincingly beat Serbia 2-0 and Estonia 4-0.
Having also beat Germany in a friendly away back in February, France will go into the tournament full of confidence having won all their games so far in 2012.
England's Key Players
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Ashley Young: Manchester United winger Ashley Young could be England's most important player in the game against France.
Most likely to be playing as the support-striker behind Andy Carroll, almost all of England's forward play will go through Young, who'll be tasked with linking-up with Carroll to create chances for himself and the striker, as well as receiving the ball from central midfield and trying to make as many key passes in the final third as possible.
Having scored six and assisted six from 21 England caps, with or without Wayne Rooney, Young could be the key player for the English through the tournament.
Scott Parker: France under Laurent Blanc have undergone a football revolution, switching to a much more passing style of play. Therefore, if England is to disrupt France's rhythm—a tactic manager Roy Hodgon loves to implement against his opposition—then Tottenham Hotspur holding midfielder Scott Parker will be vital to the coach's plans.
Parker has made more interceptions per game (3.1) for his club in the league this season than any other England or France player, and if the Three Lions are to stop France, they'll need Parker to put such stats into good use.
Joe Hart: Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart will also be a vital player for England. Why? Because he'll be up against some of Euro 2012's most in-form attackers in Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery and Olivier Giroud.
France's Key Players
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Franck Ribery: Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery will be the most important player for France in their opening game against England.
The 29-year-old has had a good season in the Bundesliga, scoring 12 goals and making 12 assists, and will carry that form into Euro 2012, especially after scoring in all three of Les Blues' preparation matches.
Cutting in from the wing and interchanging with the striker in an FC Barcelona tactical style, Ribery's pace, trickery, passing, footwork, movement and finishing will pose problems for both England's right-back and centre-backs.
Karim Benzema: Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema will spearhead France's attack, and his ability to create a goal or key pass with just an inch of space will see him be one of Les Blues' biggest threats in the game against England and the rest of the tournament.
In fact, just one look at his statistics will strike fear into the English defence—from 52 games for Los Merengues this season, Benzema has scored 32 goals and made 15 assists.
Hugo Lloris: France's goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, like his English counterpart Joe Hart, will also be a key player in this match, and that's because of two things.
Firstly, he'll face a considerable number of shots from the very much in-form Ashley Young, who's position between the lines will make him a nightmare to man-mark. And secondly, with central defence France's weak point, the whole nation will be looking to the Lyon keeper to stop the goals flooding in.
England's Projected Line-Up
England manager Roy Hodgson will most likely set up his team in his favoured 4-4-1-1 formation, with Ashley Young playing the supporting role behind a hold-up striker like Andy Carroll.
Joe Hart is the automatic choice in goal given his experience and world-class ability, while the back four will undoubtedly consist of experienced players—especially since the first game could be the most important for England.
Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson are automatic choices for the full-back slots, while John Terry is England's most experienced centre-back and Joleon Lescott's England's most in-form at the moment.
While in midfield, Hodgson will look for pace on the wings with Theo Walcott and Stewart Downing—the latter being picked over Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain again due to his experience.
And that speed on the flanks will nicely supplement two deep-lying play makers in Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker—with captain Gerrard given more license to get forward and lead in attack as well as defence, while Parker will stay a bit more disciplined and give greater focus to breaking up France's play and winning back possession for his team.
France's Projected Line-Up
France manager Laurent Blanc has one similarity with England boss Roy Hodgson—they both prefer a similar formation.
However, unlike the defence-minded Hodgson, attack-minded Blanc likes his set-up to be more of a 4-2-3-1 than a stringent 4-4-1-1.
Hugo Lloris, Patrice Evra, Mathieu Debuchy, Alou Diarra, Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema are all automatic choices due to their experience and form.
However, some positions aren't so clear, especially at centre-back. It's believed Blanc will go with his favoured pairing of Philippe Mexes and Adil Rami, due to their experience, but the duo haven't been great for club and country in recent years, with many clamouring for Blanc to take a chance on the much-improved Laurent Koscielny.
That would be a risky choice, however, given Koscielny's international inexperience and occasional nerves on the big stage.
While in midfield, the Steven Gerrard-esque role in the two-man central midfield is up for grabs. Yann M'Vila is expected to play there, but Yohan Cabaye has had much the better season for his club, Newcastle United.
The attacking midfield is also the cause of some debate in France, as while Mathieu Valbuena is a consistent performer for Les Blues, the competition is big—with Hatem Ben Arfa, Marvin Martin and Jeremy Menez all enjoying great campaigns.
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The game between France and England will see two similar formations but two very different tactical approaches.
Roy Hodgson's England will be a very tight and efficient unit, and at times in the game, a back five or back six may be visible.
The Three Lions will also rely on quick breaks, counter-attacking through the middle and on the wings with the pace of Theo Walcott, Stewart Downing out wide and Ashley Young through the centre.
Laurent Blanc's France, on the other hand, will seek to dominate possession, passing the ball around the midfield and building up play, giving players time to pick out runs in the final third and stretch the English defence to create openings.
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France will no doubt dominate possession with their emphasis on passing and will end up with more shots on goal and possibly more corners and free-kicks.
However, with Roy Hodgson an expert on creating tight defences to nullify the threat of sides relying on technical ability, England could end up having the better day of it.
Psychologically, France will go into the game in the ascendancy thanks to their better form, but if England stifle their play within the first 20 minutes, typical French frustration could easily creep into their game and cause them to waste chances.
If that happens—and it is a big possibility—then the game could become England's to lose, especially with their ability on the counter-attack, the form of Ashley Young and the weak form—and mental state—of France's defence.
Final Score: France 0-1 England