Shot-shy France leave Blanc seeking striking solutions

By James Eastham
laurent blanc(Photo: Valentin Trijoulet)

laurent blanc

The goals have dried up for France, leaving new manager Laurent Blanc with plenty to ponder before his inaugural match against Norway next month.

Football fans around the world will have noticed that France managed just one goal in three World Cup matches, an ultimately meaningless strike by Florent Malouda in their final game against South Africa.

But the last time Les Bleus recorded such a paltry tally at a major tournament was only two years ago, when Thierry Henry’s goal against Holland was all Raymond Domenech’s side had to show for three miserable Euro 2008 performances.

Rotten luck, or has something gone rotten instead with France’s strikers? The latter, if you look through the front men that Domenech took to South Africa.

Nicolas Anelka has never scored in a major international tournament and rarely played well at the highest level for his clubs (how many decisive Champions League performances do you recall?).

Andre-Pierre Gignac lacks the pace and finesse to develop into a truly world-class footballer; and an ageing Henry was always likely to be more trouble than he was worth.

The jury’s out in some quarters on Karim Benzema after the 22-year-old former Lyon striker’s unconvincing first season at Real Madrid.

Djibril Cisse’s renaissance in Greece (he finished as the Greek League’s top scorer thanks to netting 23 times for Panathinaikos last season) may have come too late to salvage his international career, and Bafetimbi Gomis, who earned a surprise late call-up for Euro 2008, has managed just one goal every 3.65 league games since.

So does this all mean that France’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign is destined to end in low-scoring failure?

We will pick up the first clues on 11 August, when incoming Blanc takes charge of the side for the first time for a friendly against Norway in Oslo. Every member of France’s World Cup squad will be suspended from that game, so it is a glorious opportunity for others to stake their claim.

The two most likely beneficiaries are Jimmy Briand and Loic Remy, both of whom were unlucky to miss out on World Cup selection after some superb performances in the months leading up to the finals.

Briand, who scored five goals and set up eight others for Rennes in the second-half of 2009-10, will be able to display his versatile skills to a wider audience in the coming season after completing a €6m move to Lyon.

And Remy merits the interest in him on both sides of the channel after single-handedly keeping Nice in Ligue 1 last season with a total of 14 goals, including several strikes in 1-0 wins.

Yet it says something that France are pinning their hopes on two players that have won just four caps between them and are yet to excel in any competition other than their domestic league.

Remy is 23, Briand turns 25 next week. At a similar age, Henry and David Trezeguet were World Cup and European Championship winners.

Others front men that may emerge from the pack include Brest’s France U21 striker Nolan Roux, outstanding in the Bretons’ Ligue 2 promotion-winning campaign last season. It will be fasincating to see whether he can perform as effectively one division higher.

Kevin Gameiro is ruled out of the Norway match with an ankle injury, but deserves the opportunity to transfer the talents that enabled him to score 17 goals for a limited Lorient side last season onto the international stage at some point in the future.

An unlikely contender is Anthony Le Tallec, who is best known in the UK for failing to make the grade at Liverpool. The one-time France U17 star initially looked lost after being frozen out at Anfield, but has matured into a fine striker over the past couple of years and next season will play at Auxerre, who are in the Champions League. At 25, Le Tallec’s aerial power and sure touch make him the nearest thing to a French Marouane Chamakh, a player Blanc just happened to be particularly fond of at Bordeaux.

As a new era begins, Benzema is still in pole position. He is the man with the technique, all-round skills, goalscoring ability and mental strength to become France’s number one striker for years. The next few months will help us to understand whether he will plough a lone furrow, or if others will share some of the responsibility.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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