So France will have to fight it out with defending World Cup Champion and current European Cup champion for the #1 spot in the group and hope they don't slip on a banana peel as the rest of the group is not a cake walk either.
The French group:
France have faced Belarus during the current Euro qualifier....and taken a whole 1 point from 2 matches! France have faced Georgia in recent campaigns and fared well against the former Soviet nation, as would be expected. Finland will be no push over, while the Scandinavian nation has not seen a major football tournament since well never. Recently their form has been a bit underwhelming, even losing to Moldova in qualifiers for the Euro. But they have quality, and I could see them causing more problems than one would expect for France and Spain.
On the surface this group should come down to the home and away fixtures between France and Spain. Much will also be determined as to when those matches are scheduled. Will they both be in the heart of the calendar, meaning both teams will be looking for points. Or could one be late or even the last match when both nations might already know their destiny? Much will depend on that schedule.
When I informed the Gooner about this draw, he kind of scoffed at France's chances. The reality is I think this could prove a good draw for France. Why?
- France will have 2 fewer matches. The group has 5 teams as opposed to the 6 in the other groups. This means 2 fewer games. Now one might argue that playing the likes of a Luxembourg or San Marino should not really "count" as matches. But if recent form has demonstrated anything they still present challenges and with players having full club schedules 2 fewer matches could be beneficial.
- France should not fear Spain. Okay I realize that might sound silly, but I do not think Spain is a team that France really fear. Had France drawn Germany or even Italy, I think they would have presented a greater "fear" factor. Spain and France have always had a footballing rivalry that gets overshadowed by other rivalries - England, Germany and Italy. Recent matches would dictate that Spain has the upper hand. But that was also Domenech, now we have a real coach. If recent form dictates anything it is clear that Blanc and Les Bleus do not fear any team, they are still working out the kinks but would fancy their chances against any nation - see their victory versus Brazil in Paris. Or France going into Sarajevo and beating a fancied Bosnian side.
- Key French players are playing in La Liga - Benzema, Abidal and Rami - will have all been playing for clubs in Spain. That familiarity and motivation will go a long way.
- International football goes in cycles. I realize this might be just some wishful thinking, but Spain has been at the top of the football world for a good 4 years, at some point you naturally drop in level. France on the other hand, has been mired in the middle of International Football. Primarily due to Domenech, but they still retain the talent and system to be better than their last two tournaments would indicate.
Allez les Bleus!