Laurent Blanc: France are no longer a top side


France may have devastating attacking talent including Karim Benzema, Franck Ribéry and Samir Nasri at their disposal all infused with confidence from a 21-game unbeaten run, but manager Laurent Blanc insists Les Bleus cannot be considered a leading football nation.

Although their squad is the envy of many across Europe, there is a feeling domestically in France that another disappointment is inevitable as the team continues to exist in the shadow of that which won Euro 2000 two years after their maiden World Cup success.

"We've had some difficult times and we're not going to hide away from them," said Blanc, whose team lie eight places below England at 14th in Fifa's world rankings. "We've been building things little by little, slowly over the last two years, but we qualified – with some difficulty, of course – and we deserve to be here.

"We need to be confident going into these finals. There are some sides who are better than France, but if we can get out of the group stage anything can happen. We're no longer one of the top sides in European football, and I should remind you of that.

"The French team don't have the same ambitions as Spain or Germany at the start of this European Championship. People say we're favourites in the group but I don't agree with that. We were in the fourth pot in the draw and that means something.

"It's an open group. France, England, Ukraine and Sweden can all legitimately believe they can get into the latter stages. We are at the same level as the other sides. We hope to get through and justify our status."

Blanc could yet gamble on the fitness of midfielder Yann M'Vila after he recovered from an ankle problem to train along with injury doubts Steve Mandanda and Blaise Matuidi at the Donbass Arena last night.

Although the exact composition of France's line-up remains uncertain, Blanc believes his England counterpart Roy Hodgson will have had insufficient time to devise a gameplan to surprise France.

"I've done this job for two years, and Mr Hodgson knows it a lot less than me for sure," he said. "But it's difficult to put ideas across to your players – you don't have lots of time to work with them, and he's had far less than me.

"I think he'll try and play in the same way – he's not bluffing – in the hope they understand what he wants from them. There'll be two very different footballing philosophies on show."

So if we can add predictability to Hodgson's list of potential problems, it leads to the question that when France consider themselves beneath the game's elite, where exactly does that leave England?