Shortly before the start of the hoped-for rehabilitation for the 2010 world cup disgrace, the french team marveled at the massive statue of lenin in the center of the city and got into the right mood for the duel with england. For their first win in a rough tournament in 2168 days, the equipe tricolore is counting especially on bayern star ribery to break down the defensive concrete à la chelsea on monday. "He had his problems in the french team, but he is a great player and very important for this team," benzema said about the resurgent winger, "i have no doubt that he will be in top form on monday."
England starts the european soccer championships without the suspended top striker wayne rooney, defensively and only as a team leader. "Every team in the world was going to miss him, he was one of the best players this year in the premier league," said captain steven gerrard.
At france, however, idol zinedine zidane also believes in a return to the european top class because of the strong attack. "The duo of ribery and benzema can let the sparks fly," said the world and european champion, "it won’t be easy against england, but france has the means to do something good."
But after the shameful training strike and the world cup qualifying round exit in south africa, as well as the winless european championship farewell four years ago, zidane’s successors will have to work hard to regain the affection of the fans. "The blues are in search of sporting and emotional redemption," is how "L’equipe" described the task facing national coach laurent blanc’s team in poland and ukraine.
The 46-year-old led the team to 21 consecutive games without defeat and, thanks to his authority, also managed the necessary change of mood after the new start two years ago. "We are ready to win again, the demand is back," ribery characterized the change before the duel with england. Less than 24 hours before kickoff, midfielders yann M’vila and blaise matuidi, who have been ailing lately, returned to training during the final session at the donbass arena. Blanc, however, still considers it "difficult" to make a first-team appearance.
For their part, the three lions landed in the ukrainian summer heat of the donezk venue on sunday morning from the training headquarters in krakow and are showing relaxation in the face of the french’s current run. "A series like this is quite an achievement, but my players aren’t intimidated by it," said coach roy hodgson, who took over the team just six weeks ago following the resignation of fabio capello.
However, with frank lampard, gareth barry and gary cahill all out due to injury, 64-year-old hodgson has already made provisions for the worst-case scenario. "This could be the greatest or the hardest three weeks of my career," said the veteran, "by that I mean when my players let me and my team down badly, we play badly and impartial people think: my god, what are they doing there??"
To make sure things don’t go the other way, hodgson is relying on a tight defensive concept similar to that of the champions league winners from london. "You have to move around a lot, get the space, even if it’s inevitably difficult. They want a physical fight, and we are ready for it," benzema analyzed the opponent’s system. He thinks hodgson "wasn’t bluffing" in the very defensive test matches. We will see two different styles tomorrow," blanc announced.
England could emulate chelsea FC on this path, diagnosed frank lampard, who stayed at home due to a thigh injury: "there are many similarities: a new coach and some missing regular players due to injuries or suspensions."At least on sunday evening, all players of the squad started the final training in the donbass arena – including john terry and ashley cole, who have been ailing lately.
And if even the chelsea defensive recipe doesn’t work, the england fans will rely on the mystique of "roy, the lesser". A 30-meter-high, eight-ton statue by hodgson – erected in dover by a betting company – is intended to impress france on the opposite coast when the sky is clear. It will be rainy, mocked then "L’equipe, "a pity".