Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Malouda to wear the arm band for Les Bleus? Would be a great choice

A good blog post about the potential for Malouda being France's captain in the short term and maybe longer. Bottom line from the article is spot on, Malouda has become one of France's best players and this after suffering during the Domenech tenure criticism and silly mind games that only made sense in the fantasy land of Domenech.

Malouda and Ribery were important parts of the team that made its run to the World Cup finals in 2006 - supporting Zidane in the midfield. Then inexplicably he was "banished" from the squad by Domenech only to return and then being yo yo'ed continuously. Again without much rhyme or reason. With the re-inclusion of the World Cup players for the Sept 3rd game, Malouda emerges as one of the most veteran and experienced players on the roster. Could he be the captain? Yes. He was the best player in Ligue 1 when he played at Lyon and has emerged as one of the key players for Chelsea. His comportment during the Domenech era was commendable, especially considering the way others acted in light of Domenech's ineptitude.

Malouda could be the captain. Depends on how Blanc approaches this decision, I could see Mexes being given the arm band as well. Blanc might want to make a clean break from Domenech and the World Cup side, and maybe wearing the arm band for someone like Mexes is an added motivational tool for the AS Roma center back. Too be determined.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Toulalan finished as a French International...not as crazy as it sounds.

A few months ago the Lyon holding midfielder was seen as a potential future captain for France, today I might argue that his career in blue might be coming to an abrupt end. Why?
  • Toulalan is slotting as a central defender for Lyon, a natural place for him to evolve. His defensive work rate is second to none, however he has not added an offensive dimension crucial in the holding midfield role. While there is still room for the "Makelele" role, that requires offensive midfielders of the likes of Zidane, Lampard, Ballack, Figo et al. With Toulalan moving more towards central defense, not sure he is a clear cut choice for France.
  • The emergence of M'Vila. Granted he only has 1 senior game under his belt, but the U21 captain was pre-selected for the World Cup so there is something there. Unlike Toulalan, the young Rennes midfielder brings a little more offense to the table. He also appears very comfortable as the single holding midfielder in a midfield diamond.
  • Speaking of the diamond formation, the potential usage of Mexes - Rami as the central defensive tandem is another road block for Toulalan. Mexes is very comfortable bringing the ball out from the defensive back and with M'Vila who acts as a high sweeper it allows Mexes that freedom of carrying the ball up the park.  Not sure Toulalan can play a similar role to Mexes and not sure he is a better defender than Rami.
With a 1 game suspension, which is really a 2 game penalty since Blanc did not call him to his squad since he could be played in the first game, will he find himself watching more games as the international season progresses? Maybe. Much depends on  how he does as a central defender, what Blanc wants with regards from his back pairing as well as holding midfielder. However, what might have appeared as outrageous a few months ago, might not be as crazy now - Toulalan not a regular for France.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Blanc makes his first list of 21 for the start of the Euros

This morning Laurent Blanc gave us his list of 21 players that will be kicking off the Euro qualifiers, including 9 returning World Cup players. With all the current events there were certain players we knew would not be available:


So with that in mind here is the list:

Gardiens : Lloris, Mandanda, Carrasso
Défenseurs : Clichy, Mexès, Rami, Sagna, Sakho, Trémoulinas
Milieux de terrain : Malouda, Diaby, A. Diarra, L. Diarra, Valbuena, M’Vila, Ménez
 Attaquants : Benzema, Gameiro, Hoarau, Rémy, Saha

Notable returns are the three keepers from the World Cup, not sure if Ruffier helped or hurt his chances during the Norway game. He had some good moments but also ended a bit shaky with his handling of corner kicks. On defense, Clichy and Sagna return from their one match suspension and from the looks of it, I see both of them starting on Sept 3. The recalling of Mexes and Rami is a strong indication that Blanc will go with this pairing at central defense for the near term, something I think is very positive.

In the midfield, the return of Malouda, Diaby, ADiarra and Valbuena from the World Cup ban. Interestingly no striker from the World Cup is on the list. Finally Gameiro received his first call up in what many were waiting to see.

Notable absentees -
  • Ben Arfa who is in the middle of a tug of war with his club over his transfer. Blanc did send him a pre-convocation but in the end did not select him. This could be a show of respect to Blanc's former team mate and current OM manager - Deschamps. Why give a player a cap when he is acting like a child for his club.
  • N'Zogbia who started against Norway, unfortunately there is competition for that left sided midfield slot - Malouda and Diaby.
The big issue for Blanc will be how he lines up his midfield without a clear option at the play maker - Gourcuff, Nasri, Ribery and Ben Arfa absent. I have a feeling he will go with the similar 4-4-2 diamond with the following line up:

Lloris
Clichy, Rami, Mexes, Sagna
M'Vila
Malouda, Valbuena
Menez
Hourau, Benzema

This will allow him to also shift to a 4-3-3 with Menez pushing up higher, but much like he plays for AS Roma, look for Menez to act like a 9 1/2 - just behind the two strikers. Malouda and Valbuena will be asked to animate the offensive game with M'Vila providing the cover and linking from the midfield. Mexes will also be asked to push high, as he does, to carry some distribution from his deep slot.

Let us see what happens over the next few days in training.


Monday, August 23, 2010

France golden boy Gourcuff to Olympique Lyonnais - good move on and off pitch

France and Bordeaux playmaker Yohann Gourcuff will move across France to join former Ligue 1 champion Lyon for just under $30m in transfer fees. Good move? Yes both on and off the pitch. Was the fee to much? Probably, but I am sure Lyon had to over pay to pry away such a player from a direct rival. However the move will prove to be solid business for Lyon moving forward. Why:
  • On the field - For this season it will provide Puel with a wide variety of options at midfield. With Pjanic and Gourcuff, he has two true play-makers he can leverage. While the Bosnian has bags of talent, he is only 20 and, although Gourcuff is still only 24, has valuable experience and will bring that to the table. Speaking of Pjanic, the noise is that he is itching to make a move to an English club. He was already mildly linked to moving to the EPL prior to his move to Lyon. After a good season last year, including a strong Champions League showing (including the winning goal versus Real Madrid), I doubt he will be around for much more than this season and next at most. Having a Gourcuff ensures you have your play-maker for the long term. Not a bad midfield of Gourcuff, Grenier and Gonalons to build around...hmm the "G" midfield...sorry could not resist (I also assume Toulalan will slot back in central defense). In addition, Lyon has their set piece taker, something they have not had consistently since Juninho left.
  • Off the field - Puel and the powers that be at Lyon are not bad business people....how else can you explain that a team that over a decade ago was a nice club, but in the shadows of the likes of OM, Bordeaux and PSG. Today they are most valuable side in Ligue 1 and just outside the top 10 most valuable teams of all football. Clearly the addition of the French golden boy will help in the off the field marketing and business efforts of the club. Winning is the most important business and marketing programs for a football team...but having a potential golden boy to lead your marketing efforts is not too bad either. In addition, Puel could be gambling that he can build off field success on having the core of the French national team playing for Lyon - Lloris, Gourcuff, Briand, Toulalan - will give his side great business exposure.
Of course the move also takes away one of the major pieces of a direct rival, with the rumors of Alou Diarra leaving Bordeaux to head to Marseilles, coupled with no clear replacement for Chamakh and Les Girondins' mountain back to the top of Ligue 1 gets steeper every day....oh and the loss of your manager to the national team does not really help either! The move makes sense for Lyon. It announces to Ligue 1 that Lyon remains the big fish in the pond, and with Champions League aspirations adding some talent and depth is vital to try and achieve the lofty goals for OL.

Good move for Lyon and Gourcuff, things just got more complicated for Bordeaux. Question is....who will get #8 for Lyon??? It currently sits on the shoulders of Pjanic.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Arsenal within reach of first place...who needs a keeper!!

Arsenal thumb Blackpool today 6-0. I guess the magical ride for the freshly promote side from the North West of England came to a halt in week 2 - Blackpool thumped Wigan 4-0 week 1. Of course the same Wigan got thumped 6-0 this week versus Chelsea, not sure what that says about Blackpool but clearly Wigan is making an early season bid for relegation. Apparently all the talk of a new keeper have not unsettled Almunia enough for him not to keep a clean sheet.

So Arsenal sit second with 4 points with a +6 goal differential with 7 goals for and 1 against. So who needs a keeper or another central defender??? I jest. With all the noise around Squillaci (which now apparently is cooling) as well as the on again off again move for Schwarzer or Given and now the new rumor that Wenger will go after Holland and Ajax back stop Stekelenburg, I fear that come September 1st, Wenger would have signed none of these players.


Arsenal have a habit of starting out strong only to fade in the difficult winter months and then pick it up again only to fall short in the end. One reason for this is their inability to win the ugly games - games when you need to lean on strong defense and have a keeper that can steal a game or two for you...not sure Almunia is that keeper. The defense could be strong, but needs some additional depth to ensure it can slog through the difficult months of December thru February.


Come one Arsene - focus on a keeper and go out an get him. Then either get Squillaci or figure out someone you can get for cover - a Silvestre or Campbell move will not suffice this time around.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wenger closes in on another central defender - Squillaci from Sevilla

Today the news from North London is that Wenger is close to bolstering his back line by signing French international Sebastien Squillaci from FC Sevilla. Based on some what I am reading on Twitter you would think that Wenger was on the verge of signing former French central defender Maxime Bossis...who is currently 55 years old...and not someone
who has played for the past few seasons for a solid Sevilla side in La Liga, prior to that has also showcased for Ligue 1 clubs Lyon and Monaco (where he was the starting center back when Monaco made their run to the Champions League finals). A 30 year old who has 20 full caps to his name for France as well...how many caps does Koscielny have?

Squillaci is a good sized (6' 1") center back, who is a solid no nonsense defender and very strong in the air (he isn't the bean-stock that is Koscielny). He can bring the ball out from the back but will not be mistaken for Beckenbauer any time soon. He can chip in a goal now and then. As a teammate you never hear complaints about his attitude or being a cancer in the dressing room...not something you could say about his French predecessor - Gallas. I think his game will be very well suited for the Premiership especially during the slog days of winter time when pitches are wet and muddy and the ball heavy.

Of course he does not come with the hype surrounding other signings. Net net, this is a good signing for Wenger. With Koscielny, Vermaelen, Squillaci and Djourou the Gunners have the potential for a very strong rotation at center back. I would not be surprised if eventually Squillaci and Vermaelen were the featured pairing. Nothing against Koscielny, I think that was a great signing for Arsenal for this season and the long term, but we cannot forget that he has never featured at the international level and was playing for Lorient - not one of the big Ligue 1 clubs let alone for a side like Sevilla who played Champions League as well as La Liga. So the young French center back has made a big jump from Lorient right into the very deep end, on a team that expects to be top 4 every season - those are lofty expectations.

A good buy for Wenger, you would think by some of the reaction that Arsenal fans would rather see the return of Senderos...now Wenger better buy a good keeper and soon otherwise the central defensive rotation will be a moot point.

Nasri out for a month - will miss France qualifiers

News out of Arsenal is that Nasri has undergone successful knee surgery but will miss a month of action. Not great news for Arsenal....probably worse news for Laurent Blanc and France. At least with Arsenal you hope to see Cesc back in action for the Gunners. With Les Bleus there are two Euro qualifiers next month - Sept 3rd at home against Belarus and 5 days later against Bosnia at Sarajevo. Laurent Blanc, we assume, will be bringing back some of the World
Cup 23 into the fold. The loss of Nasri could be more damaging to Les Bleus than Arsenal. Why? Gourcuff will be out due to his red card and will be suspended. Ribery is out for 3 games due to his actions in South Africa. Basically Blanc is looking at missing out on 3 of his potential play-making #10 type midfielders.

Blanc has his work cut out for him to determine which players can step up to take on the role of #10. If he goes to, what I think makes the most sense, a 4-4-2 diamond then he will need to have a player who sits atop the diamond who can act as the offensive director. At first blush, I could see Blanc leaning on Malouda on the left to bring animation to that side of the pitch and maybe slot Menez at the top of the diamond supporting the 2 strikers - we could also see Valbuena on the right of this formation. Of course this could morph into a 4-3-3 with Menez slotting higher into a line with the strikers. Or could Cabaye be looked to slot on top of the diamond? Not a traditional #10 style player, but could slot there in the short term. Blanc will certainly earn his pay over the next few games. This qualifying group is not impossible for France but not a cake walk either. The away game to Bosnia will be crucial to determine who emerges from the group.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

French mutineers get their punishment, Anelka officially finished with Les Bleus

The FFF has come down with their punishment for the mutineers from the World Cup. Anelka will be banned for 18 games, Evra will be banned for 5 games, Ribery for 3 games and Toulalan for one match. Effectively the ruling has ended Anelka's international career giving him an 18 game ban...basically making him un-selectable for the next 2 years. Les Bleus will have 14 games prior to the European Championships (qualifiers and friendlies) and if they qualify for the Euros, then Anelka would only be available for a semi final game!

Anelka at Wembley
This marks a sad ending to what should have been and could have been a stellar international career. I remember living in Paris when a young 18 year old was poached from PSG by the "professor" Arsene Wenger. The rest is history...Anelka burst on the scene with Arsenal and that commenced a subsequent tour of European clubs (Real Madrid, Liverpool, PSG, Bolton, Manchester City, Fenerbahce, Chelsea, Hollywood FC...last one was a joke) and on again off again career with Les Bleus. He was dropped from the 1998 roster, granted Jacquet already selected 2 young strikers - Henry and Trezeguet for the World Cup. Anelka did find his way back on the side when France won the European Championship in 2000. He would miss the next 2 World Cups, the most shocking was when Domenech decided to take Govou to the 2006 World Cup when France needed to replace Cisse due to a broken leg, until this last World Cup - his first (scary that he played in 1 World Cup...Govou in 2...shocking). A player that demonstrated so much promise as a youngster - many look at his brace against England in Wembley as the game that gave the hope that he would be the great French striker that would carry the team. Alas, the incredible sulk allowed his attitude overshadow his enormous talent and potential. His inability to get along with managers or to even stick around with clubs turned him into the nomad of international football. Fortunately for Les Bleus, they had Henry, Trezeguet and more importantly a Zidane that emerged in 1998 to carry the national side - winning a World Cup and a European Cup (Anelka was on that squad). Not sure where Anelka would have fit into the side, although it would have been an amazing rotation of strikers between Henry, Trezeguet and Anelka in their primes. Nico leaves the international game under a cloud of shame, alas, we barely had a chance to know you.

This will be interesting for Blanc as well with regards to Evra, Ribery and Toulalan. There is some depth at left back - Clichy, Tremoulinas and Cissokho. With 5 games for Blanc to leverage one of the other French left backs, Evra might have a difficult time getting back into the starting rotation. Similar situation with Ribery - there is depth at left wing/midfield. With Malouda scoring a brace over the weekend for Chelsea it would appear his good form from last season has not taken a break. He would be the clear first option on the left, assuming Blanc goes with a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Other candidates - N'Zogbia, Diaby and Menez to name a few. As for Toulalan, fortunately for him, he only suffered a 1 game suspension with M'Vila showing he can more than comfortably hold down the defensive midfield role combined with a more offensive side, the Lyon midfielder would want to be able to get back on the pitch sooner rather than later to hold on to his spot. In addition, Blanc will not be able to call on Gourcuff since he will be serving a suspension for the red card he picked up in the last France game.

September 3rd should be very interesting, how will Blanc continue to build his team with some of the World Cup 23 come back into the list.

Ligue 1...surprise surprise. Caen gets two big scalps.

What is wrong with this picture?
Oh yes that is Caen sitting second for Ligue 1 with the past two champions in the relegation zone, and the former champion Lyon right out side of the drop zone. Okay I realize we are just 2 weeks into the season and much will change by the end of the year. I am still sticking to my predictions for Ligue 1. What is surprising is the top of the standings and SM Caen. The Normandy club has been up and down between Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 the past few seasons but have surprised everyone with 2 huge scalps to start the season - taking out Marseilles and Lyon, winning their opener against the defending Ligue 1 champion at their ground!

Will Caen go on to win the title...no. But I will make this statement after 2 games - they will not be relegated. Bold? Maybe. Over the past 5 seasons teams would need an average of 40.8 points to stay in Ligue 1. The fact that Caen already have 6 of those points - 15% of what a team will need to stay in Ligue 1. Add to this that those 6 points came at the expense of teams that Caen would expect, at best, to get 1 - 2 points from their opening fixtures. More realistic would have been 0 points from the first 2 games. Caen have 36 games to secure 34 points, that does not seem to daunting after the scalps already claimed. Even if Caen get drubbed in the return fixtures against these two sides, if you had told Dumas and Garande that from 4 games against OM and OL they would have 6 points, I am sure they would be thrilled. All the Normandy club has to do it be competitive against the second tier clubs and try to steal a point from the upper echelon clubs....clearly they have done the latter.

Of course not sure I am as confident that PSG will stay in Ligue 1 after a good start...but that is my eternal realism when it comes to my club....

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sepp Blatter once again focused on the wrong problem

Once again Sepp Blatter brings up a topic to distract us from the real issues from the past World Cup. So rather than figuring out to use technology to assist officials we are going to spend our time debating golden goals and eliminating draws. Why am I not surprised. As usual the "brains" behind the FIFA wants everyone to forget the no accorded goal for England versus Germany or the blatant offsides for Tevez against Mexico...amongst a few egregiously bad calls from this past World Cup. Instead let us revisit the golden goal and eliminating draws. Sigh. To me another reason why the Swiss needs to go...but of course that will not happen. So why is this ridiculous?

First, the goal of the idea is good - make the first round games more open. Every manager knows that dropping the full 3 points makes it very difficult to get out of the first round, therefore we all play for the draw and take our chances in the last 2 games. Of course the way Sepp is approaching this...misses the point and of course the unintended consequences are apparent. What this past World Cup has shown us is that while opening round games tend to be cautious affairs, the second and third games are high drama. Look at the USA v Algeria match, on paper that game looked like a non important match. But because of the way the group was working its way out that game was nothing but drama. The Italy versus Slovakia game? Same thing. Even the Spain versus Chile game carried high drama, since the eventual champions had to win that match to continue. Every World Cup group stage will have some groups that are decided after the second game while others will go down to last game drama. That is the nature of the beast. If we wanted high drama...then maybe the World Cup should go to single elimination from the start. Make it like the NCAA basketball tournament. No thanks.


So if draws go right to a penalty shoot out that will do what? According to Sepp it will make it more competitive? Um really. Instead what I can see is more teams playing for draws and hoping they get rewarded in the penalty kick lottery. Just what we need. Penalty kick shoot outs are exciting I will admit, however they are a lottery. They are dramatic since they occur in the knock out stages, when you have teams that are evenly matched - France v RFA in 1982, Holland v Brazil in 1998, England v RFA in 1990 just to name a few. It is not as if you had a squad such as New Zealand playing for the draw and their keeper "wins" the game in PKs. How does that make the World Cup better Sepp? Since the World Cup expanded, why is it surprising that group stage games are not all a replays of Italy v West Germany 1970 match? Fans of footy and of the World Cup, recognize that the beauty of the tournament is due to the entire experience - starting with qualifiers, through World Cup group draws, to the actual games, through the knock out stage and culminating in the final game.


Speaking of France v RFA 1982 or Italy v RFA 1970...know what these two games have in common? Went to extra time where there were 9 combined goals scored in both games! Throw in the golden goal and you would never have had this drama - many would argue these are two of the greatest games ever played. The golden goal rule does not make a team more offensive in style. Teams will continue to play the way they are used to, and if that manner is defensive...the golden goal rule might make it more defensive in mind set.

An example for me, France v Paraguay in 1998, France was without Zidane playing at Lens in a first round of the knock outs where the golden goal rule was in place. Clearly the best player for the South Americans was their keeper - Chilavert. They played accordingly - defensively and looked to counter.



France pushed and looked to win the game in regulation, why? Because they knew that Chilavert was a clear asset in the penalty shoot outs. Once the game went to extra time this only became more evident, golden goal or not. To my eye it only made Paraguay play even more defensive! Forget the counter attack, let us just get to the penalty shoot out. The golden goal is also a lottery - ask Azzurri fans about how they feel about the way the game ended versus South Korea in 2002. I remember a Confederation Cup finals between France and Cameroon where a fortunate bounce off a Titi Henry thigh gave Les Bleus the title. Lottery.

I rather see and extra time the way we have it currently constituted, the penalty shoot out is already a lottery, let us not add another "chance" exercise added to the equation. However typical Sepp, let us not focus on the real issues - making sure we granted goals when they are scored, better calling off sides and giving officials the tools they need to better officiate the matches. That would not be productive now would it Sepp?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

France v Norway: The Blanc era starts with a 2-1 loss, but lots of positive to take from the match.

The Laurent Blanc era started...unfortunately with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Norway. Then again Norway is ranked 22nd and France 21st so not a huge upset! There were some encouraging aspects of the match, some usual problems but overall a better outlook than when we last saw Les Bleus. Some thoughts:

The Good:
  • Fresh faces - Once Laurent Blanc decided to leave the World Cup 23 at home we knew there would have to be an infusion of new talent. With Ruffier, Rami, M'Vila, Hourau, N'Zogbia, Menez, Cissokho and Cabaye getting their first caps it was refreshing to see a team with the drive and effort that comes from new blood. A much better site to see than what we last saw from Les Bleus. Maybe the World Cup 23 can learn something from this match in terms of what it means to put on your nation's jersey.
  • Speaking of fresh faces, the central defensive tandem of Mexes and Rami was very promising. The Lille central defender was solid in the back and was very strong in the air clearing a number of crosses and high
    passes into the box. He also brought an aerial threat on offense. What was most refreshing about watching him play was his lack of fear when it comes to sticking his cranium in hazardous places, a skill I am sure his manager respects since that was a strength of Laurent Blanc when he played. The pairing with Mexes worked well with the AS Roma player showing his quality bringing the ball out of the defensive end of the pitch for France. On many occasions Mexes was used as a launching pad for the offense, and he was very comfortable pushing into the offensive side of the pitch to bring his support to the attack. Mexes is at time overly aggressive on defense, but in the end he gets the job done. 
  • Mexes as captain. While I am not sure this is a long term solution, the fact Blanc gave the arm band to Mexes was brilliant. To me it was a statement to Mexes who has long lived with the label of great potential for France but not living up to the hype. Blanc sent the message: "Act and play like a captain and you will have a chance to build with this team, now is your chance, seize it." Clearly the message resonated with the AS Roma player, and it might be the very thing he needs to take the next step with Les Bleus.
  • The generation 87, since winning the U17 Euros in 2004, much has been expected of this generation. For whatever reason, Domenech could not find a way of building around the likes of Menez, Benzema, Nasri and
    Ben Arfa. It was encouraging to see all of them on the pitch together for the senior France team. Each brings his individual skill set that Blanc and Les Bleus can lean up. The qualities of Benzema and Nasri are well documented - although the Real Madrid man needs to demonstrate he is back on the path we saw when he was at Lyon as a pure goal scorer. Menez demonstrated his ability to play on the wing and bring width and pace to the attack. While Ben Arfa demonstrated his pure dribbling talents, breaking down the Norwegian defense and creating his own shots. Now up to them to demonstrate their value and worth for the national side. 
  • M'Vila, the Rennes central midfielder and U21 France captain provide a glimpse at his vast talents and potential. He played better in the first half as the lone holding midfielder, more on that later, but overall gave a slight glimpse of the potential he possess. He was strong in his tackles and linked well with the attack. At 20 years old the future for him is very bright. 
  • No more Domenech!!!!! All together now "The Domenech era is OFFICIALLY over!!!" Even suffering through a loss the fact that when the camera panned to the side lines I saw Laurent Blanc standing there and not inspector Clouseau, made me feel good. In just the past 3 days I feel a breath of fresh air has been infused into the FFF. You can see the difference in the press conferences, interviews, the tactics and the in game management. I saw a Laurent Blanc that took advantage of every minute he had with this squad, understanding that for him to do his job well he cannot afford to waste caps on players, waste a practice or a game. This is no more evident in the fact Blanc clearly wanted to work two systems in the Norway game, he wanted to allow his back 4 (especially the central pairing) to get as much real game action as possible and he wanted to ensure he used his substitutes wisely to have the combination of players on the field in the system that would allow him the most information. Unlike Domenech who in one of his last games in charge prior to the World Cup called up some new faces, but rather than put them on the pitch to at least see what they could do in game situations used the same old tired tactics that had gotten him ... nothing. What a novel idea, if you call up players...play them. Of course, and I am sure Blanc is well aware of this, France cannot afford to lose games come September 3rd otherwise this good will towards Blanc will rapidly evaporate.
The Bad:
  • France lost 2-1. That is bad. No game should be seen as a throw away, where the result does not matter. Clearly Blanc is of the same opinion. France had their chances: a great 50 - 50 ball won by N'Zogbia in the 17th minute which he then put a perfect left footed cross on the head of a diving Remy, forcing an emergency save from Knudsen. Had the OGC Nice striker hit his shot a foot either direction it would have beaten the keeper. 13 minutes later the Toulouse midfielder Sissoko forced another strong save on a volley destined for the upper 90. Ruffier did make a strong save in the first 15 minutes to keep the game level. However overall the first half belonged to Les Bleus. Unfortunately the second half saw the Norwegians take advantage of two defensive errors leading to the 2 goals for the victory. Never good as a manager to start your tenure 0-1, but I am sure Blanc will build from the positive we saw today.
  • 4-2-3-1 formation. Just when you thought the favorite formation from the Domenech era would be long gone...it makes another appearance. Blanc switched from the 4-4-2 diamond to the 4-2-3-1 in the second half. Clearly it was not a formation that fit well with the French side. Granted they held the lead briefly through a laser from Ben Arfa, but overall the formation seemed to cause more problems. First, it put Diarra and M'Vila together. M'Vila quickly seemed out of sorts compared to what he showed in the first half. And not sure what Diarra brought to the table. M'Vila was doing more than an adequate job in the first half as the sole holding midfielder, with a partner on his shoulder it appeared to stifle the young Rennes' game. He was not as free to roam as he had been in the first half. Second, Menez and Ben Arfa's tendencies at times were to drift too far into the center, thereby clogging up the lanes and the midfield. Couple this with the fact Hourau and then Benzema, as the lone strikers, drifted back to try to pick up the ball. This created at times, 3 players to be right on top of one another with little spacing. While I am sure this formation can work, Blanc, if he wants to use it, will need to make sure the personnel he runs out there is more appropriate. 
The Ugly:
  • Defending set pieces. Well this problem has been around Les Bleus for a few years. Some teams just seem to have trouble with set pieces (see Arsenal). Rami seems to bring one element that could change this - his
    The Norwegian bagged his brace
    command in the air. But Ruffier did nothing to solve this, especially end of the match when he appeared lost on a few corners. The first goal from Norway was on a set piece, where Hourau was inexplicably defending on Huseklepp and was easily turned by the striker. This has been France's Achilles heel for a few years now, hopefully Blanc can find a solution.
  • Huseklepp's second goal. Not ugly from his stand point as the Norwegian striker bagged his brace, but what was Diarra doing? A botched pass at the center circle led to the Norwegian striker waltzing in one on one against Ruffier. My one area of nit picking is that I think the Monaco keeper should have held his ground for a split second more. Why? Rami was sprinting back to try and close down the break, had Ruffier forced Huseklepp to either shoot or take another touch it might have allowed the French central defender to get back into the play. Instead Ruffier went to ground quickly trying to guess where the Norway man was heading and instead allowed himself to be easily side stepped and the ball gently tapped into an open net. Again, nit picking I realize.
  • Lack of finishing for France. Any game you approach 20 shots on goal, granted less than half were on net, and only show 1 goal for your efforts you need to consider getting some goal scoring lessons. The silver lining is that there were some quality chances and it was good to see players taking their opportunities. Too often you see teams try to pass and wait for the "perfect" shooting chance. However, France will have to improve on this aspect. Question is what striker or striker combo to remedy this? With Henry retiring, Anelka out in international Siberia, no Trezeguet and who knows if Cisse can replicate his scoring form for Les Bleus there are a lot of up and coming strikers - Hourau, Benzema, Remy, Briand to name a few - but no established international caliber striker. Of course it is difficult to fill the boots of both Henry and Trezeguet when you consider both are top 3 goal scorers all time for France, with Henry being #1. This will be an ongoing quest, it will be interesting to see how it gets resolved. The talent is there, but what is the right system and combination.
    Overall I think what Les Bleus showed to me was encouraging, then again after 6 years of Domenech almost anything would be better! Next steps will be how Blanc integrates some of the World Cup 23 back into the side. The players I think scored the most points to stick around - Rami, M'Vila, Hourau, Mexes, Sissoko, Menez and Ben Arfa. I did like what I saw in spurts from N'Zogbia, but he falls victim to the depth France have on the left - Ribery and Malouda stand in front of him, or even Diaby. To me Rami-Mexes could very well be the central pairing we see on Sept 3rd against Belarus for the Euro qualifier opener. I am not sure Gallas will figure back in the picture and not sure Squillaci slots in over Rami and he does not have the ball carrying skill of Mexes. Neither Cissokho nor Fani did enough to move ahead of Evra/Clichy/Abidal when it comes to Cissokho nor Sagna when it comes to Fani (although Fani had some quality crosses early in the game, not sure Sagna would have made those). Nasri might slot out to the right allowing Gourcuff to hold the central midfield slot, regardless Nasri demonstrated he has the quality to be the #10 for Les Bleus. Ben Arfa is the one pure dribbler and deserves consideration moving forward. Finally M'Vila showed a lot of promise and at 20 years old has a great future ahead - could make the holding midfield role one of the most competitive on the French roster.

    Good to see Les Bleus back on the pitch, rather have seen it end in a win. But we can truly put the Domenech era behind us! Let the healing begin. Let us just hope the winning shows up...and soon. But the signs point to a brighter future than a few months back.

    The French goal, Ben Arfa shows why he can be so frustrating at times, so much talent yet needs to find the consistency:

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Equipe de France - the next 23

    Okay I will admit that I have a slight problem, but I decided to put together my list of the "next 23" players for France. Let us just for fun, think that France were going to have another team not including the current 23 players nor the World Cup roster. So here is what I came up with...

    GK: Landreau, Frey.

    DEF: Mathieu, Kolodziejczak, Ciani, Koscielny, Kaboul, N'Goyi, Corchia, MDabo

    MID: Cheyrou, Flamini, Mavuba, Gonalons, AitFana, Feghouli, Marveaux, Kakuta

    FOR: Saha, Piquionne, Trezeguet, Gomis, Le Tallec (I would consider replacing Trezegol with Ngog, but I am not convinced that the former PSG striker can be a consistent goal scoring threat)

    Strength for this team would be the defense. I might go with a 4-2-3-1 formation to leverage the depth at holding midfield depth.

    Line up:
    Frey - Mathieu, Koscielny, Ciani, MDabo - Mavuba, Flamini - AitFana, Feghouli, Kakuta - Saha (or maybe Trezegol)

    Defense built around Frey and strong middle pairing of Ciani and Koscielny. They are a bit inexperienced by have bags of talent. Solid veteran in Mathieu on one flank, and a good attacking option. On the other flank Dabo who brings pace and an attacking flair.  A very young starting offensive midfield. for that reason I start a veteran holding midfield duo - Mavuba and Flamini. Lots of pace on the wings with Kakuta and Ait Fana. Feghouli will have much pressure to pull the strings in the midfield, something to watch for. Saha is a veteran up front that can help settle the youthful midfield.

    Okay I promise I will not try to come up with the 4th list of 23...

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Equipe de France - Blanc leaning towards a 4-4-2 to start against Norway

    Based on the rumors coming out of Clairefontaine, it would appear that Laurent Blanc will look to a 4-4-2 "en losange." Basically means the midfield drops to a diamond shape with a deep lying holding midfielder, an offensive midfielder and a right and left midfielder - technically not wingers since they are not expected to play as wide as they might in formations such as 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-3-2...

    4-4-2 Diamond: notice the side midfielders are not as wide

    Based on the formation, the midfield diamond is much more compact than a flat midfield 4. Therefore in this formation, the wide full backs are asked to bring width to the attack. They are to make overlapping outside runs to the midfield and provide crosses to the strikers. This formation should give the fullbacks channels to attack since the opponent is expected to defend more compact in the middle of the park. Therefore it is crucial that the wide runs from the fullbacks lead to quality crosses. Blanc did practice with a more familiar 4-2-3-1 formation at Clairefontaine...back to the future...but it would appear that he will lean on the 4-4-2 diamond.

    So who are the players? It would appear that the keeper and the back 4 are the same regardless of what formation Blanc has been using in practice -
    • Ruffier in goal no brainer, I think he has a legitimate chance to become the France #2 keeper. I am still not convinced that Mandanda nor Carasso are unquestionably the #2 and #3 keepers for Les Bleus.
    • Fanni - Rami - Mexes - Cissokho as the back line. I think Sakho had a chance, but due to his age I think Blanc wanted to lean on a more senior central defense. This is the same back 4 I thought Blanc would use. I think the player to watch is Fanni. Why? As I posted before, I am not convinced that Sagna is the clear cut right back for France. If Blanc goes with this formation moving forward, the full backs must be able to consistently provide offensive support through good crosses and runs. I am not sure that Sagna's crosses will meet those requirements, he certainty has not made us forget Sagnol. Cissokho will have a chance to show something on the left, but that position is so deep for France it might be a steep mountain to climb. In the middle, I think it is anyone's place to win, I doubt that either Gallas or Abidal will be back in the picture any time soon.
    The real question is who does Blanc play in the midfield and up front. Based on the latest Blanc seems to be leaning on the following formation -

    Ruffier - Fanni, Mexes, Rami, Cissokho - Mvila - Sissoko, N'Zogbia - Nasri - Hoarau, Rémy

    Sending Benzema, Ben Arfa and Menez to the bench. Of course this could change at least 4 more times before tomorrow's game. The real question is does Blanc leverage N'Zogbia/Sissoko/Remy or Benzema/Ben Arfa/Menez to start? My sense is you will see all 6 of these players during the game, just depends on who starts and who will most likely come in at the half. I am leaning towards on the former to start, mainly because 2 of the 3 already started their season with Ligue 1.

    I am looking forward to the match see some fresh faces and how Blanc runs the squad. The other big test for France is how they defend the set pieces - Norway brings a lot of height and size - let us face it France under Domenech has never been stellar when it comes to defending set pieces. Something to watch for.

    For those that cannot watch the match on television, it will be available on ESPN3 at 3:15pm EST.

    Allez les bleus.

    Monday, August 09, 2010

    Frog and Gooner podcast - looking forward for the US and French national soccer teams

    After a little break...post World Cup. Frog and Gooner are back to wax on about the future of both the United States and French national soccer teams. We discuss the future of the players and managers that both sides will leverage to build moving forward with Brazil 2014 in mind...enjoy.

    Hey Sepp look at the NFL for some guidance

    The latest out of the NFL is the league is exploring inserting a chip into the ball in order to ensure proper calls when it comes to first downs and touchdowns. Hmmmm that sounds like a novel idea. I guess that would never make sense for other sports...such as soccer.  Clearly if the FIFA is serious about learning from other leagues before adopting technology then they need to look no further than the NFL. If the technology can tell an official if a ball has crossed a line - which is constantly changing when it comes to first downs - then why can a league not leverage technology to determine if a ball has crossed a fixed line - the goal line! Hopefully Sepp and his band of merry followers are paying attention.

    Saturday, August 07, 2010

    EPL about to kick off - The Frog gives some insight into who will win the title

    We had Ligue 1 kick off, I provided Frog's predictions a few posts ago, clearly Goal.com read that post since we have similar predictions for the final standings! Couple this with the Community Shield - the first match to announce the start of the EPL season, I figured I would lean on my predictive powers to provide some thoughts on how the EPL will finish this season. By the way, Chelsea won both the FA Cup and EPL title, so why is it Manchester United in the Community Cup? Shouldn't Portsmouth have some claim to the match as well?? They did finish runners up in the FA Cup final...just saying...anyways on to the predictions.


    5th Place: Liverpool Football Club: So the Benetiz-less Reds will scrap and fight their way back to knocking on the top 4. The loss of Mascherano will be a difficult hole to fill in the midfield. Granted Hodgson is looking to sign Juventus midfielder Poulsen to slot in that holding spot. However make no mistake, the Argentine was a tough tackling midfielder that gave that team much of its metal in the midfield and provided much needed cover to the back 4. However I think with Hodgson in place, the team will have a better defensive discipline and game. Similar to what we saw from the English manager last season with Fulham, expect him to get the most out what he has on his roster. Unlike his predecessor, I have faith that Hodgson will squeeze the most value out of this roster. The biggest questions will revolve around Torres and his health. The fact he decided to stay with the Reds is clearly a huge plus. Add Joe Cole and I think you will have a revitalized strike force. Maybe Hodgson will be able to do with Kuyt what he did in London with Zamora. Don't laugh, but the Dutch player might fit that mold. A player that can hold the ball allow the Coles and Torres and Gerrards to get into position offensively. Whether or not Hodgson will get the most out of the likes of Babel and Aquilani - some players that have failed to live up to expectations will determine how far Liverpool can go. I think that the Reds finally have a manager that can manage over a championship season and not just for a knock out tournament. Look for the Reds to get back into the picture for potential Champions League.

    4th Place: Manchester United FC: What...the Red Devils....4th place!!! Sir Alex Ferguson not in the top 2!!!!! That's right, you read it here first. Manchester United is due for a fall from grace, still get Champions League football but just barely. Why? Simple - Manchester United's age, injuries and heavy work load will final catch up to them. In addition the lack of big name signing over the past 2 seasons will be difficult to overcome. The last time Manchester United won the title it was on the backs of Tevez, Ronaldo and Rooney and their scoring talents that carried the team. Hmmmm, Tevez and Ronaldo gone and that scoring gap is now up to Owen and Berbatov to make up. Mind you this is not Owen from 1998 or Berbatov from his Tottenham days, both strikers' better days are clearly behind them...add to this a Rooney that has clearly shown wear and tear of too many games and being brought back too quickly from his ankle injury (and a number of other knocks) last season. This team played back to back Champions League finals then made it to the 1/4 finals last season over the past 3 years, add to this the amount of international football players such as Evra, Rooney, Ferdinand have in their boots as well. Oh yeah, Ferdinand is clearly succumbing to the injury bug as well, not a good sign. Also how much more can SAF get out of Giggs, Scholes and Neville? Last I checked these three AARP players still seem to play important roles for SAF, especially Neville at right back...frightening.  Not sure what to expect from Nani and Anderson...both were suppose to be the next generation to relief Giggs et al. There is some youth - Macheda, Fabio, Rafael and Cleverly (nice goal from the youngster below) - however not sure if they are ready to really take on a greater responsibility.



    Add all this together and I think we are going to see a Red Devil team that takes a serious drop in form. They have not made a big signing, that has worked out, in a few seasons. They are older, the names they signed to replace the likes of Ronaldo and Tevez have not lived up to their billing, Van Der Saar has a lot of wear on those tires, the youth is too immature and this team has played a lot of football over the past 3-4 years. They will go backwards this season.

    3rd Place: Manchester City FC: Whooohooo, yup the Frog thinks the Citizens will take a major step up the standings. I think they might have been here last season had they not wasted the first half of the season with Mark Hughes at the helm. I think the Citizens under Hughes dropped at least 15 points due to drawing games rather than winning. Turn that around and you have a team that team gets Champions League football this season. With Mancini in place for the start of the season, I doubt the Citizens will be dropping silly points. Of course with the deep pockets of the Abu Dhabi United Group, ManCity has gone on another shopping spree adding the likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva, Jerome Boateng and Aleksander Kolarov to the likes of Adebayor, Tevez, Vieira and Barry to name some of the players added to the roster last season. They have 2 solid keepers - Given and Hart. Their defense should be good and offensively will be carried again by Tevez. If Mancini can convince Robinho to come back and play, I think that will only add to what could be a strong offense. Even if the Brazilian stays at Santos, Manchester City have many other offensive options. The other question is can Stephen Ireland be motivated and convinced to give it his all for the Citizens? If he does leave for Milner than that would be a net positive for Manchester City. Add to this the potential for the Inter striker Ballotelli coming to play at the City of Manchester Stadium and look out! The question still remains if the Italian manager can motivate and manage this assembly of high paid hired guns for an entire season. My bet is yes, well enough to get into the top 3.

    2nd Place: Chelsea Football Club: The defending champions will not defend their title. But it will be a good battle between themselves and their rest of the league. I think Chelsea falls into the same dilemma as does Manchester United...which big players have they signed the past 2 seasons? They lost Ballack and Joe Cole. Signed Yossi Benayoun to wear the #10 shirt...um okay. Ashley Cole might be on his way out to Real Madrid. Essien is back, but is he 100% healthy? Rumors swirl around Drogba leaving to Marseilles....unlikely but still. Anelka? Who knows what to expect after the summer debacle. Carvalho and Terry are not getting any younger, and both started showing signs of decline last season. What about Lampard? Not sure he is not also on the back 9 of his career. Can some of the youth step up such as a Kakuta who was the star for the U19 European Champions - France. Without Joe Cole we might see the young French striker get more time with the first team. Of course much of these issues could be resolved if Abramovich opens his deep wallet and goes out and acquires an Aguero or even goes after Torres. Problem for me is this side has made their runs with the same core for a few seasons - Terry, Drogba, Lampard, Essien, Cech - they have not done enough to refresh some of these pillars. They had enough to make it work last season for the double, but is this a season too far for the core? I think so.

    1st Place: Arsenal F.C.: So that leaves us with....the Gunners! Okay okay I might be called a homer since I am a Gunner fan. However here is my reasoning: the Arsenal team has the talent on the rise and talent that has not been as beat up as their other contenders over the past 2-3 years. Let us play a quick game - Nasri, Chamakh, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Rosicky, Arshavin, Walcott - what do they have in common? No World Cup. Add to this Cesc, did not log a ton of minutes, Bendtner same and Van Persie yes played a lot for Holland...but he barely played last season so overall he has not logged a huge number of minutes over the past few seasons. Sagna, Clichy and Diaby...well we know they only played 3 games in South Africa and skipped a practice so they are fresh! I think that the 3 headed striker monster of Chamakh, Bendtner and Van Persie will play very well in front of a midfield of Diaby, Cesc, Walcott, Rosicky,
    Arshavin, Nasri etc (I realize that Walcott and Arshavin can be seen as strikers but I consider then hybrid midfield wide players and strikers/wingers). The duo of Vermaelen - Koscielny look very strong, and the addition via subtraction aka letting Gallas walk will be a big boost for the team especially in the dressing room. I also think Wilshere is poised for a solid season (so does Capello as he gave the young Gunner his first call up for the England v Hungary friendly). Of course, Wenger will need to make a few more moves prior to the end of the transfer window - get a keeper, fellow podcaster Sam the Gooner made it very clear "If Wenger does not sign a keeper by the end of the transfer window he should be fired on the spot." and second I think Wenger needs to find another central defender. The Gunners always have the talent. I think the core that Wenger has been grooming is ready to make the big move to winning the EPL. Part of that is also the fact time is ticking...on Cesc. Clearly he appears to have one of his Nike boots in Barcelona, so the Gunners better get the most of out of their captain this season. Wenger sign a keeper...even Schwarzer would be a huge step in the right direction of course Eduardo would be better! Over the weekend the rumors of a daring swoop for World Cup champion and Liverpool #1, Riena has picked up some steam, but that might just be that...a rumor. I see Chelsea and Manchester United slipping due to age and too much wear and tear...while Arsenal are ready to hit their stride and have plenty in the tank. Wenger gets back on top!!!

    So the Gunners win silverware for the first time since they had Pat Vieira roaming the midfield. Tottenham will be a one and done when it comes to the Champions League, I just did not see the North London club bringing in any talent this transfer season and that will hurt their chances to stay ahead of Liverpool or Manchester City.

    Player of the Year: Cesc. The Arsenal captain will mark his last season in the EPL with a player of the year title and lead his club to the domestic title...and then will scamper off to Barcelona.

    Manager of the Year: Hodgson. The former Fulham manager will take Liverpool and make the most out of a roster Rafa could never do enough with because he had no "money."

    Cannot believe the season is starting, I am looking forward to watching the Gunners get back to the top!

    Thursday, August 05, 2010

    Blanc announces his first list. 6 new faces - looking towards a bright future

    So this morning Laurent Blanc announced his first list for France's August 11th match against Norway. No surprise but the list leans heavily on players from Ligue 1 and the encouraging fact is the list encompasses many young players - and does not even take any of the current U19 European Champions which means there is an even deeper reserve of players at Blanc's disposal moving forward. That is encouraging.

    The list:

    GARDIENS : Stéphane Ruffier (Monaco), Nicolas Douchez (Rennes).

    DÉFENSEURS : Rod Fanni (Rennes), Adil Rami (Lille), Philippe Mexès (AS Rome/ITA), Mamadou Sakho (Paris-SG), Benoît Trémoulinas (Bordeaux), Aly Cissokho (Lyon), Mathieu Debuchy (Lille).

    MILIEUX :
    Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid/ESP), Moussa Sissoko (Toulouse), Yann M'Vila (Rennes), Samir Nasri (Arsenal/ANG), Yohan Cabaye (Lille), Charles N'Zogbia (Wigan/ANG), Blaise Matuidi (Saint-Etienne).

    ATTAQUANTS : Hatem Ben Arfa (Marseille), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid/ESP), Loïc Rémy (Nice), Jimmy Briand (Lyon), Jérémy Ménez (AS Rome/ITA), Guillaume Hoarau (Paris-SG).

    Not too different that the list the BeanTownFrog put out a few posts ago! Some things to note:
    • 16 Players from Ligue 1. 
    • 7 players that have never been selected for France A: Mathieu Debuchy, Mamadou Sakho, Benoît Trémoulinas, Yohan Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi, Charles N'Zogbia et Jérémy Ménez.
    • No surprise but the noted return of Nasri and Benzema
    • A number of players from the France Espoir team - Sakho, M'Vila and Sissoko.
    • Neither Ciani nor Chalme, who were in the pre-selected list, both from Bordeaux, did not make the final cut.
    • The depth France have at holding midfield - Matuidi, M'Vila,  Sissoko, LDiarra...add to this the World Cup players -  ADiarra, Toulalan, Diaby - as well as those not selected - Cheyrou, Mavuba, Flamini, Pedretti - and it is amazing to me how France can generate so many players that can play this role, while a nation like England cannot seem to produce one...other than Hargreaves who is Canadian and always injured.
    • Some surprise exclusions, other than the 2 Bordeaux players mentioned - Koscielny the Arsenal man has received a lot of praise and accolades, I am sure his time will come. I was a little surprised no Gameiro, the leading scorer from Ligue 1 could have offered some interesting offensive options.
    Snippets from Blanc's press conference:



    During the Blanc's interviews he pointed out a couple of notes of interest:
    • Sakho being a natural left footed player and playing for one of the big Ligue 1 sides has a real chance to cement himself at central defense, possibly with Mexes. 
    • Benzema remains a very important player for France and has the chance to be one of the pillars. 
    • Another note is that Blanc did not consider any of the U19 players, saying he wanted to watch them but that they needed some more time with their clubs before he would consider them for the senior side, interesting. 
    • Finally, Blanc pointed out that even though this is a friendly, France is heading to Norway for a win and the players need to take advantage of this selection to show him something.

    There is a good blend of veterans and newbies. I think this will give Blanc a great opportunity to gauge how hungry and ready some of these new players are for the big squad. Early thoughts on the starting 11, based on prior discussions I see a 4-1-3-2 formation for Blanc's first game.

    Ruffier: The #1 shirt is firmly on Lloris' back, but there remains room for his understudy, the Monaco keeper is a rising star in goal, someone to watch.
    Cissokho - Mexes - Rami - Fanni : I think Blanc will work Sakho in practice with Mexes/Rami but will start with a more experience central defense tandem. Tremoulinas has a chance to earn some points, even though France have depth at left back - Abidal, Evra, Clichy...Cissokho also has a legitimate chance to earn some points at that spot. I see the Lyon player getting the first 45 minutes and Tremoulinas the second half. Fanni will get a chance to slot back on the right. Sagna should be the starter however he still needs to improve his crosses, I think Blanc will expect his fullbacks to add more offensively than prior regimes. Something Fanni can score some points with Blanc.
    LDiarra : I see Blanc leaning on one true holding midfielder. If he decides to go with 2 I would see Sissokho as the natural partner to shoulder that responsibility with Diarra.
    N'Zobia, Nasri, Menez:  N'Zogbia will hold down the left flank, while Nasri and Menez can interchange in the center of the midfield and out on the right. Alternatively, Blanc might look to Ben Arfa to fill in the role of Menez.
    Hourau - Benzema: While I could see Briand or Remy in the place of Hourau, what the PSG man brings is a target man who can hold the ball as well as give some threat in the air. I think Benzema is better suited to play with a strike partner of this profile allowing the Real Madrid man to make runs from deep and to have more space as Hourau forces the defense deeper.

    Many of these players will play a major role for Les Bleus as they embark on qualifiers for Euro 2012. There are some interesting players at the U19 and Espoir level that could also make some hay - Ait Fana and Kakuta - to name 2 players. It should be a very interesting week...

    Allez les Bleus!!!
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