Donetsk: Laurent Blanc insists his side’s marathon 21-match unbeaten run is not evidence of a French renaissance and maintains Les Bleus can no longer be considered one of the top teams in world football.
After a disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign which was marred by infighting and culminated in lengthy suspensions for the likes of Nicolas Anelka and Patrice Evra following a shambolic group stage exit, France appear to have rediscovered an air of serenity under Blanc’s astute guidance.
An utterly comprehensive 2-1 friendly victory over England at Wembley back in November 2010 hinted at the potential at Blanc’s disposal and after a mixed - but ultimately successful - qualifying campaign, France arrive in Donetsk as dark horses for the tournament in everyone but their manager’s eyes.
"We have had some difficult times, and we are not going to hide away from them. We have been building things little by little, slowly over the last two years, but we qualified – with some difficulty, of course – and we deserve to be here," he said.
“We need to be confident going into these finals. There are some sides who are better than France, but if we can get out of the group stage anything can happen. We`re no longer one of the top sides in European football, and I should remind you of that.
“France, in terms of their results over the last few years, have not allowed us to retain our place in European or World football. We have to look at what is clear. People say I often bring this up, but I do not do that because I like to.
"It is the reality. People say we are favourites in the group, but I don not agree with that. We were in the fourth pot in the draw, and that means something.
"It is an open group. France, England, Ukraine and Sweden can all legitimately believe they can get into the latter stages. We are at the same level as the other sides. We hope to get through and justify our status."
While Blanc has had the best part of two years to construct his masterplan his opposite manager on Monday, Roy Hodgson, has been in the England job for little over a month.
The former Manchester United and Inter Milan defender admitted he felt some sympathy for his Three Lions counterpart and was confident England’s two recent friendly victories over Norway and Belgium provided an accurate representation of how they will attempt to disrupt France’s possession game at Donbass Arena.
He said: "I have done this job for two years, and Mr Hodgson knows it a lot less than me for sure. But it is difficult to put ideas across to your plaeyrs – you do not have a lot of time to work with them, and he`s had far less than me. He`s tried to put across how he wants his side to play.
"I think he will try and play in the same way tomorrow – he is not bluffing – in the hope they understand what he wants from them, individually and collectively. There will be two very different footballing philosophies on show tomorrow.”