France 2-0 Romania, 9/10/10
Forget the sympathy directed at Roy Hodgson. If you thought the ex-Fulham gaffer had it tough then spare a thought for Laurent Blanc, who walked into the France job without a hope it would seem. But now, if all goes well on Tuesday night against Luxembourg, you would not be able to wipe the smile off of Blanc’s face even with the most brutal machine after last nights 2-0 victory following the summers ludicrous showing. A catastrophic series of outrageous events lit up a drab World Cup in South Africa, particularly from an English point of view as players well and truly took ‘throwing their toys out of the pram’ to a new level under Blanc’s predecessor Raymond Domenech.
The starting XI from last night featured just 3 of the players who began the match in the 2-1 loss to South Africa at the World Cup in June, a testament to what Blanc has had to deal with. He will hope to brush the well-documented problems under the Stade de France pitch and really kick on in his brief but eventful tenure so far. But just to recap for the enjoyment of English readers, Anelka got sulky, had a tantrum, had to pack his bags home. Evra had a fight with Robert Duverne, the team trainer, stropped off and launched his ID badge like a 5 year old who had lost a game of FIFA, then the next day, Managing Director of the French team, Jean-Louis Valentin resigned from his position due to being French. Well, being sickened and disgusted by the actions of the team was the official reason but you cannot comprehend how difficult it must have been spectating from a fans point of view.
Duverne & Evra
Following that, the grumpy footballers then made Domenech read out a statement criticising the French Football Federation (FFF) for sending Anelka home, to the media. Now the team and the governing body were at war as the FFF responded in embarrassment rather than anger, apologising to the world for the antics displayed by these… well I was about to say men but I had to rethink that… egotistical bunch (there we go).
France were eliminated after losing 2-1 to South Africa in the group stages, the whole squad subsequently banned by Blanc himself with further punishments for the main culprits. Rather like an angry father than coach, Blanc wants a fresh, new side to propell this new era. But it hasn’t started well.
Dreams of a new beginning for Les Bleus were thrown away as Norway and Belarus defeated the new look French side. The team dropped to 26th in the FIFA World Rankings and a novel crop of talented youngsters was in desperate need. Mediocrity was fast approaching as Blanc remained calm, seemingly under control of it all. Or maybe the madness had driven him to insanity.
Belarus celebrate a famous win
Bosnia-Herzegovina were the next opponents on the road to Poland/Ukraine in 2012, mere days after that humiliation to Belarus. A stern test as Bosnia were surprisingly astute in qualifying for the World Cup, reaching the play-offs like France themselves, but ended up losing to Portugal. With Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic in their ranks, Bosnia were the real dark horses in Group D. However, France swept them away, comfortably winning 2-0 in Sarajevo with goals from Benzema and Malouda late on.
Was the page turning? Was Blanc, who had proven himself to be an incisive leader at Bordeaux, about to continue his excellent work with a group of youngsters, new to the limelight? Too soon to call, one win cannot dispel the history that easily (as England have now seen themselves) especially as the two results were days apart. But if any man can turn the wheel, it must be Blanc.
Young, tactical and successful – Laurent Blanc
For who deserves to be more successful that Laurent Blanc himself? Truly a great as a player making over 600 appearances and 97 for his country, he played with style and composure, unlikely characteristics for a centre back to possess. However, he was the victim of one of the greatest injustices in recent World Cup history. Profoundly captaining France on home soil at the ’98 tournament, he wandered up into Croatia’s penalty area for a cross. Slaven Bilic joined him as the two were about to do battle for the ball. Blanc then appeared to shrug Bilic off, no problem. But the Croat dived for the floor as though he had been thumped by a Hayemaker. Blanc was red carded, the only one of his career and had to watch as his teammates won their only World Cup trophy, on home soil, without being involved in the 3-0 walloping of Brazil.
Blanc has since been involved in management. He spent 3 years at Bordeaux, his first job since retirement, and seems to know what he’s doing. Les Girondins unhinged perennial winners Olympic Lyonnais for the first time in 8 years, no mean feat, to win Ligue 1 for the 6th time in their history. Add to that 3 more trophies and Blanc knew the magic formula for management. It made sense that when Domenech announced he would be stepping down as France boss the FFF ensured Blanc was the main man.
But onto Romania. Blanc declared post match that the side would not take Romania lightly, insisting that the win against Bosnia proved nothing. Still trying to leave the troubled past behind, whenever Blanc attends a news conference he must dread the inevitable questions laid forwards to him. Dispelling any nerves, the Frenchman made it clear that there were none ahead of this match, even though France had not won at the Stade de France in over a year. There is a new feeling in this camp, not because of the players but because of the new systems brought in by Blanc. A stricter attitude has arrived and psychologists regularly visit the team to give Blanc every possible chance of success.
Romania came into the match with something to prove too. Draws with Belarus and Albania indicated a desperate need to kick on and set their campaign alight, as they must fancy a group where the real threats come from a new Bosnia side and an unpredictable French team. But they themselves can be unpredictable too. We saw a real glimpse of the teams potential at Euro 2008, where they earned themselves a fair amount of credit with good performances in a terribly difficult group which even featured France. However, they went off the boil afterwards, failing to qualify for the World Cup. But one aspect Romania seem to hold is the fact that their unpredictable ways can unhinge teams of higher stature, displaying awesome performances when you least expect them.
But not tonight. France produced a real late show, courtesy of clever substitutions and goals from Loic Remy and Yoann Gourcuff, sending them top of the group. Romania’s cautious approach looked to have dispelled any idea of a result but their plan could only hold for so long.
France – a team united and playing well (yes it’s true!)
It seemed to be the same old story for the French until the 83rd minute, a lovely through ball from Alou Diarra sent Remy clear. He had the pace to beat Christian Chivu and then find the net with a fabulous finish. Gourcuff repeated the feat in the dying embers of the match, collecting Dimitri Payet’s pass before rifling home. It was the right result in the end – France dominated the match with 10 shots on target to Romania’s paltry one. France started brighter, with Samir Nasri having an inspired game for Les Bleus.
It was he who provided the ball for Florent Malouda to ruffle the net first, albeit it the side-netting, with a glorious chipped pass. Romania held out until half time, relatively untroubled, Chivu dealt well with Benzema and the defence were rightly pleased with themselves, and it was the team in yellow who could have ruined the night for Blanc as George Florescu forced Hugo Lloris into a sharp save straight after the interval.
And on 71 minutes Romania had another chance to go ahead, Cristian Sapunaru hit a post but that was as good as it got for them.
Mathieu Valbuena forced the Romanian keeper to push his shot against the bar, then saw Chivu clear off of the line quite spectacularly as the home fans became frustrated and anxious. Nasri had a further chance to open the scoring but was denied by another save. The key moment of the match came and went without anyone taking much interest. Remy and Gourcuff strolled on between the 68th and 74th minutes and went onto change the course of the game. They ensured the result with the finishes and left Blanc to face the media, and take the credit for the tactics.
Remy celebrates his strike
Not so. Typically modest, Blanc refused to take the plaudits, instead insisting that the team was made up of 14 players instead of 11. He went on to say that the victory came from the bench and praised his team generously, making sure everybody took notice. The coach gave credit to Romania themselves, praising their defensive display and long balls. See, not all Frenchmen are like Arsene Wenger.
Meanwhile, opposing coach Razvan Lucescu condemned his sides performance by criticising their passing game and possession of the ball. However, he did return Blanc’s kind words as he paid tribute to the new look French side, mentioning their technical quality and resistance. For Romania, they have another qualifier in March as they look to emerge from true mediocrity and become a force once again.
But now France can happily exist, in their bubble of contentment for the time being as they look towards a tasty game against Luxembourg, a bit of a derby in itself. France should have no problem with the minnows and if they create as many chances as they did against Romania then that could even be regarded as a bad day at the office. They need to be resolute and hungry for the match to truly ensure that they are turning a corner, no doubt Blanc will ensure this happens.
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