Confidence in France is high. A poll taken in France last week by French football daily L’Equipe revealed that 76 percent of those asked believed their team will beat the English tonight in Donetsk.
Clearly this confidence has not dwindled as national newspaper Le Parisien today headlined with “Now Les Bleus are ready to take on England.” This buoyancy marks something of a role reversal between the two nations with the English press downplaying their side’s hopes and the French press heaping the pressure on their national side.
The French public’s confidence is justified due to injuries to several of England’s key players (Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry, Gary Cahill), Wayne Rooney’s untimely suspension, and the lack of preparation time available to Roy Hodgson and his side. England have also seemed unconvincing in their warm up matches while the French have come into the Euro’s with a 21 match unbeaten streak and a 4-0 drubbing of Estonia in their most recent friendly. England’s performance against Belgium was lackluster and defensive with Belgium having most of the possession. However there were flashes from Ashley Young and Danny Wellbeck in attack that hinted that the English may have the ability to spring a surprise on the French.
Laurent Blanc and the French team are wary of the counter attacking threat that England could pose. Patrice Evra has warned “do not under-estimate the England team”, while Samir Nasri went as far as saying that “the Three Lions were the favourite for the pool”. The French expect Roy Hodgson to set his team up deep and try to hit them on the break pitting the pace of Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck against the centre-back partnership of Philipe Mexes and Alex Rami.
Mexes has just returned from injury and has been criticised by certain quarters of the French press for being over weight. Lauren Blanc had to defend Mexes over criticisms of his weight during a press conference by saying that “contrary to what one thinks he is only 10% fat”. At the same time Alex Rami is inexperienced at international level and has partnered Mexes on very few occasions. There are also questions being raised about France’s ability to break down a trademark Roy Hodgson defence. Eurosport’s Editor-in-Chief Cedric Rouquette was quoted as saying, “England will play very defensively and this is the type of team France will find it difficult to score against.”
Patrice Evra made the comparison between Roy Hodgson’s England and Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea in that neither had much time and both had their backs to the wall. Di Matteo produced miracles but the question is will Roy Hodgson be able to do the same? While the French public is anticipating a win, for once the English public is not. There is a danger that the French may buckle under the pressure from their expectant fans and the English thrive as the underdog.