France expected to pick strongest team for Estonia

The team Laurent Blanc picks for Tuesday's final warm-up game against Estonia is expected to closely resemble France's starting lineup for the European Championship match against England next week.

Updated: June 05, 2012 12:46 IST
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Paris: The team Laurent Blanc picks for Tuesday's final warm-up game against Estonia is expected to closely resemble France's starting lineup for the European Championship match against England next week.

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It is very much decision time for the France coach.

"The match should help us improve our fitness in order to be ready for June 11th," Blanc said.

France is unlikely to have too much trouble extending its unbeaten run to 21 matches, but having increased competition for places with some success, Blanc may now have to disappoint some players.

Left back Patrice Evra, center half Philippe Mexes, and to a lesser degree Samir Nasri, find their places under threat after some unconvincing performances against Iceland and Serbia in recent warm-ups.

Evra is under serious pressure from the rapidly improving Gael Clichy, while Laurent Koscielny's assured showing in the 2-0 win over Serbia last Thursday puts him firmly in the frame to take Mexes' spot.

Dropping Mexes would force Blanc to break up the Mexes-Adil Rami partnership he has taken nearly two years to build.

But Mexes had a poor season for AC Milan, while Koscielny stood out for Arsenal during a difficult campaign, and his familiarity with the Premier League's forwards may also work in his favour for the England game next Monday.

Clichy, too, excelled for Manchester City late in its title-winning campaign, and was at his marauding best on the left flank against Serbia — just days after Evra had a poor game against Iceland, where he was at fault for the first goal conceded in a shaky 3-2 win.

Having lost the league title to City in the dying seconds of the Premier League campaign, Manchester United defender Evra could again end up second best to his City rival for the England game.

Nasri, meanwhile, was lackluster against Iceland but picked up his form somewhat against the Serbs, particularly in a first half featuring some flowing one-touch football, and where he combined well with Franck Ribery and striker Karim Benzema.

"Benzema, Ribery and Nasri all have good technical quality and individual skill," Blanc said.

Ribery and Florent Malouda, two veterans who had been sweating over their places, have peaked at just the right time.

Their starting spots appear to be nailed down, with Ribery on the right wing in Blanc's 4-3-3 formation, and Malouda sitting on the left of a flat midfield.

"It's the formation which we are the most comfortable with, where we've played our best games," Blanc said.

Ribery and Malouda scored against Serbia, with Malouda finding the top corner with a ferocious strike from 25 yards (meters) out.

"Franck and I know each other well and we have a good understanding," Malouda said. "The experienced players are playing their part, and the unbeaten run isn't down to luck."

After going more than three years without an international goal, and testing Blanc's patience to the limit, Ribery has finally burst back into life in the blue shirt of France, with two goals in the last two games.

"I've played all season like that for Bayern Munich, but there was just that little thing missing for France," Ribery said. "Everyone was happy with how I played, and I'm also very happy."

Nasri's best position appears to be on the left wing next to Benzema, but Hatem Ben Arfa is also in contention to start there, although the Newcastle winger may need to do something special against Estonia to dislodge Nasri, given his greater experience for France.

In central midfield, Marseille's Alou Diarra is likely to be given valuable playing time, because he will likely start against England in Donetsk, Ukraine next week if Yann M'Vila does not recover from his sprained ankle in time.

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  • Football
  • Philippe Mexes
  • Yoann Gourcuff
  • AC Milan
  • France
  • Gael Clichy
  • Chelsea
  • Patrice Evra
  • Manchester United
  • Wayne Rooney
  • Franck Ribéry
  • Laurent Koscielny
  • Florent Malouda
  • Wigan Athletic
  • Karim Benzema
  • Alou Diarra
  • Lech Poznan
  • Euro 2012

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