France must wake up after “slap in the face”, says Sagna

Paris: France have no option but to fight back straight away after starting their Euro 2012 soccer qualifying campaign in humiliating fashion, defender Bacary Sagna said.

“Catastrophic”, screamed a headline on the front page of French sports daily L’Equipe on Saturday, a day after Les Bleus fell 1-0 to modest Belarus at Stade de France in new coach Laurent Blanc’s first competitive game in charge.

“We took a slap in the face,” Sagna told reporters after France looked toothless up front and naive at the back against relatively harmless opposition.

“It’s a nuisance to start with a defeat, especially at home, but we must keep our heads held high and get back to work immediately,” he added.

Blanc, who took over from Raymond Domenech after the World Cup fiasco and needs to rebuild the team, made it clear he expected an improvement by Tuesday, when France play their second Group D match against Bosnia in Sarajevo.

“We’re in a difficult situation and we need to fight, which is exactly what we will do,” Blanc, who relied on a young and largely untested team, told reporters.

Blanc knows, however, that he has a problem in that very few players on his list can score goals.

“You have to face the fact that the best two scorers in our team (against Belarus), Malouda and (Louis) Saha, had scored just four (international) goals,” he said. “You can’t say that we have players who know how to score goals.”

Jeered Off

France, who shocked their fans at the World Cup by boycotting a training session after Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting Domenech, have a long way to go to recapture their place among the world’s elite.

Early cheers from the Stade de France stands on Saturday suggested the France supporters at least agreed with Blanc that a fresh start with young blood was needed.

Ninety dull minutes later, however, the players were jeered off the pitch.

With playmakers Yoann Gourcuff and Samir Nasri sidelined by suspension and injury respectively and two new names on his long injury list, Saha and fellow forward Loic Remy, Blanc will be forced to experiment again against Bosnia.

“Nothing works in our favour at the moment with all those injuries,” said Blanc. “It’s difficult to find anything positive in a defeat but there were things in our game that I liked.”

France looked fairly solid at the back until they dropped their guard at the worst possible moment, conceding a goal four minutes from time.

“When you can’t win, you must make sure not to lose but that sort of thing comes from experience,” Blanc said. “When you’re young, you make mistakes. Our problem is we cannot afford to make any.”

Bureau Report