KIEV (Reuters) – France were shaky at the back, toothless up front and lacked sharpness in midfield during their final group game against Sweden, yet Les Bleus are unfazed by having to play holders Spain in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals.
Laurent Blanc’s team, who made a solid start to the tournament, had a night to forget on Tuesday, losing 2-0 to Sweden to finish second in Group D behind England, who will take on Italy for a place in the last four.
“Let’s face it, Spain or Italy, it’s the same,” Gael Clichy, who seems to have edged out Patrice Evra at left back, told reporters.
France, who were unbeaten in their previous 23 matches, will need to raise their game in Donetsk on Saturday, especially in defence after being tormented throughout by the Sweden forwards at the Olympic Stadium.
They will have to make do without centre back Philippe Mexes, who picked up a second yellow card on Tuesday and will be suspended for the clash with the world champions.
Blanc made the trip to Ukraine with only three centre backs and he is set to field Laurent Koscielny, who is expected to cope better with the pacy Spain forwards and midfielders.
However, the Arsenal defender only has three caps under his belt and has only played one full game with regular centre-back Adil Rami.
“I know Laurent having played with him at Arsenal and I trust him to deliver,” said Manchester City’s Clichy.
At least, France know they can rely on captain Hugo Lloris, who made a series of stunning saves to keep his team afloat.
Les Bleus, however, are confident that world champions Spain could be the perfect quarter-final opponents.
“Spain will be favourites, they are one of the best teams in the world,” said forward Karim Benzema, who has yet to score at the tournament. “But they play, and we will have more space.
Midfielder Samir Nasri agreed.
“Maybe it’s better for us to face Spain because Italy are very, very painful to play,” he said. “Let’s not worry. Spain had huge difficulties against Croatia (even though) they may have the best midfield in the world.”
Spain have never beaten France in a competitive game. In 2006, they even served as launch pad for Les Bleus at the World Cup. France had struggled through the first round before outplaying Spain 3-1 in the last 16 en route to the final.
But Blanc is well aware his team will need to dramatically improve to get past Spain this time, especially with one day less than the Spaniards to recuperate.
“All games are difficult. Spain struggled against Croatia. After such a game (against Sweden), it’s hard to picture how we can beat Spain,” he said.
“But we will fight. Croatia showed us how it can be done.”
Croatia lost 1-0 against Spain in their final Group C game but put the reigning European champions on the back foot for long spells.
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