Sacrés Bleus! A Euro 2012 au revoir to 'rubbish and stupid' France
Spain 2 France 0: Former captain Larqué leads the attack as press and players fall out badly once again
Monday 25 June 2012
Another tournament, another ignominious exit for France. Bitterness and recrimination have come to lie as squarely at the heart of the French tournament experience these days as talk of the panacea of the youth academy at Clairefontaine did 12 years ago. It wasn't quite as bad as the World Cup – no strike action this time, no embarrassing footage of sulky millionaires huddled motionless on training pitches – but the sense of rancour was just the same.
Not surprisingly, patience has long since expired. "The levels of intellect and talent in that team are catastrophic," the former France captain Jean-Michel Larqué commented. "Les Bleus are rubbish and stupid."
There was something insipid, almost timid about their approach against Spain, but that isn't the biggest problem. It's a question of attitude, the sense of a team of egos and individuals who care nothing for France or its values, for whom the national team has, perhaps, become a chore. The worst offender, of course, was Samir Nasri, who responded to a simple question in the post-match mixed zone by hissing at the reporter: "You are looking for shit. You are looking for trouble."
The reporter shrugged and, relatively politely, told Nasri to get lost. Nasri turned back, shouted "Fuck you," and, amid a stream of further abuse, suggested he and journalist have what Oleh Blokhin would call a "man talk" before being led away by French media relations staff. "There, now you'll be able to say I've been badly brought up," Nasri added, a pretty explicit reference to the theory posited after the World Cup farrago that a generation of players had grown up with no sense of respect for the structures and traditions of France and French football. Given the volatility of the banlieues and the emotions raised in France by the subject of immigration, it's a sensitive subject.
"There is a problem between the press and Samir Nasri," the coach, Laurent Blanc, acknowledged. "It was embarrassing and regrettable. If this is true, it's disrespectful to the journalist. This is unfortunate for his personal image and that of his national team. I've already told Samir what I had to say, but obviously the message did not go well."
Nasri's poor relationship with the media, and specifically L'Equipe, had already been highlighted when he celebrated his goal against England by making a clear shushing gesture. There were then reports that he had clashed with Alou Diarra after France's defeat to Sweden when the France captain accused him of failing to fulfil his defensive obligations. Little wonder Blanc, who had done so much to resurrect the side after the humiliation in South Africa, leading them on a sequence of 23 games unbeaten until they ran into Sweden, responded to a question about his future with a sense of weariness.
That's not to say he will leave but he did not give any great confidence he fancies trying to soothe egos and heal wounds again before a World Cup qualifying campaign in which France will again meet Spain, as well as Belarus, Georgia and Finland.
"Listen," he said, "we've just gone out of the competition so we're very disappointed. You can see the disappointment written on the faces of all the players and staff. But I think we need to analyse this European Championship. We're going to analyse everything in detail but that's what you always do. Had we qualified we'd have done it later but now we'll do it in the coming days. I've been satisfied – there have been ups and downs but we'll take some time and analyse calmly. You'll see what happens after that."
Whether because of Nasri's outburst or for tactical reasons, Blanc opted to play two right-backs, recognising that it is Spain's left-back, Jordi Alba, who gives them the "profundidad" Vicente del Bosque acknowledged they had been lacking against Croatia. If Alba cannot get forward, then it is possible to corral Spain into passing neatly and ineffectively around halfway. Blanc's ploy almost worked but Mathieu Debuchy stumbled at the vital time, allowing Alba to muscle by him as he ran on to Andres Iniesta's pass before crossing for Xabi Alonso to score.
Blanc described the goal as "infuriating" but the real problem was what happened next. France's reactive strategy made sense, but once they had gone behind they had nothing proactive by which to change the game. There was a flatness to them and Spain looked assured of their place in Wednesday's semi-final against Portugal even before Xabi Alonso's late penalty.
"The team is playing well and we're happy to be in another semi-final," said midfielder Sergio Busquets. "A lot of people are talking about the style but what is important is that we are working well together." That sense of togetherness is really the biggest difference between cohesive Spain and the fractured individuals of France.
Scorer: Spain Alonso 19, pen 90.
Subs: Spain Pedro 7 (Silva, 65), Torres 5 (Fabregas, 67), Cazorla (Iniesta, 84). France Ménez 5 (Debuchy, 64), Nasri 5 (Malouda, 64), Giroud (M'Vila, 79). Booked: Spain Ramos. France Cabaye, Ménez.
Man of the match Alonso. Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Spain 53%. France 47%.
Attempts on target: Spain 5. France 1.
Referee N Rizzoli (It). Attendance 46,145.
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