France out to banish WC demons

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France_run1 REUTERS France's Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery in training.

Donetsk, Ukraine – France take an unbeaten run of 21 games into their opening Euro 2012 match with England and want to make the shame of 2010 forgotten as well with a good showing on Monday.

Les Bleus won the last Euro encounter of the two sides 2-1 in 2004 while the teams played to a 0-0 draw in 1992.

Coach Laurent Blanc has not been fully happy with his side's defence but will be happy enough that England are without Manchester United star Wayne Rooney, who serves a suspension for the first two group games.

Two years ago France created turmoil on and off the pitch with a winless group stage elimination at the World Cup in South Africa and a player revolt against then coach Raymond Domenech.

But France have made this forgotten by now and the 1984 and 2000 champions are considered light favourites in group D which also features co-hosts Ukraine and Sweden who meet in the other Monday game in Kiev.

Winger Franck Ribery and forward Karim Benzema have shown good form lately but Blanc was less happy with central defenders Philippe Mexes and Adil Rami although both are set to start on Monday.

“We were solid defensively in qualifying, but the focus hasn't been the same of late. Against Estonia, the centre-backs in particular did not give us the assurance we need,” Blanc said.

England enter the game with 1-0 wins over Norway and Belgium under new manager Roy Hodgson, who will focus on shoring up the defensive end of a team missing Frank Lampard, Gray Cahill and Gareth Barry for the tournament and not having Rooney available either.

“If you look at the two games we have had under the new manager, the organization has been different and I think it has helped,” Manchester United winger Ashley Young said. “If we can go out and put on a similar display then I'm sure we can get a result.”

There are plenty of question marks around a young and not very experienced Ukraine team, and the fitness of veteran star Andriy Shevchenko, which is under pressure to do better than the other hosts in their 1-1 draw against Greece in the tournament opener.

“I understand what the entire country is expecting from us ... I try to protect the team from everything negative and take the pressure on myself,” said coach Oleg Blohkin.

Sweden are led by captain and AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and more attacking power is available from Johan Elmander, who has recovered in time from a foot fracture.

Ibra said all four teams were at an equal level and that Sweden have to play “smart” to advance. – Sapa-dpa


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