France – Euro 2012
What are the expectations for the team?
Before France's excellent 2-1 win over Germany in February, the feeling was that Les Bleus faced a battle to get out of the group. Since that unexpected victory in Bremen, fans now expect a quarter-final place at least. The lack of goals was the major concern during the qualifiers, but Karim Benzema's sparkling form at Real Madrid has assuaged some of those fears.
Is the coach popular?
Yes, although his reputation took a battering during the "quotas" affair last year, when he and other coaches from within the football association were secretly taped using clumsy language - to put it mildly - about black and dual-nationality players. Laurent Blanc was nicknamed "Le President" during his playing days. You rarely hear him called that now. A prominent journalist recently released a biography of Blanc that suggests the manager is more complex than he appears, although football books have little impact in France.
Have any players appeared in TV commercials or other advertising?
The France squad has been a no-go zone for advertisers since the World Cup training-session strike, which turned players into pariahs two years ago. Zinedine Zidane and the 1998 crop are far more likely to be used to flog drinks or razor blades. Nike are trying to rebrand Les Bleus by using "next generation" internationals such as Yann M'Vila and Marvin Martin to model the latest kit.
Which players are good interviewees and who are the worst?
Marseille trio Steve Mandanda, Alou Diarra and Loic Remy are likeable, approachable and sensible talkers. Former golden boy Yoann Gourcuff, who may miss the cut altogether, is notorious for being either aloof or camera-shy, depending who you believe. His refusal to speak to the media winds up journalists. He is said to prefer reading a good book.
Are there any players with unusual hobbies or business interests?
Florent Malouda became a minority shareholder last year at French first division club Dijon, where his younger brother Lesly plays (or, more accurately trains, as he rarely makes Dijon's matchday squad). This raises an issue about a potential conflict of interest should Chelsea ever draw Dijon in European competition, but regulars at Stade Gaston-Gerard will tell you that is unlikely to happen in the near future.
Will there be any rehearsed goal celebrations?
None that we know of. France have scored two goals in six games at the past two major tournaments, so practising celebrations would be a bit premature.
What will the media coverage be like?
Former Birmingham City striker Christophe Dugarry is France's leading pundit. He heads a list of 1998 World Cup winners who enjoy godlike status and dominate screens all year round. Arsène Wenger is a co-commentator for TV channel TF1 and far more jocular than in his day job at Arsenal. The most high-profile name with no playing or managerial history is former L'Equipe journalist Pierre Menes, a round-bellied provocateur with a nice line in putdowns.
Will there be many fans travelling to the finals?
Very few, compared to the English, Dutch and Germans. Lyrical imagination will be in short supply. "Allez les Bleus!" is the crowd's favourite and virtually only chant. There may be the odd rendition of I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, a dressing-room anthem for the World Cup winners 14 years ago.
What is the local view of the England team?
The French are chronically pessimistic about their national team so they automatically assume England are group favourites. The England manager fiasco has been greeted with utter bemusement, although you could argue that the fact Raymond Domenech was national-team boss for six years disqualifies the French from taking a view. James Eastham
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