France has won six straight matches and should be brimming with confidence ahead of Tuesday’s friendly against Croatia, but instead coach Laurent Blanc is fretting over how to best use Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery.
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Ribery returned to the team in last Friday’s 2-0 win at Luxembourg in European Championship qualifying after missing Blanc’s first seven games in charge, but he was far from convincing until the coach switched him over from the right to the left wing.
Ribery plays on the left for Bayern and wants to play there for France, but Florent Malouda normally occupies that position.
”For the moment, he starts on the right. I have balance on the left,” Blanc said. ”I have a player like Florent Malouda who is important in terms of balance.”
But Blanc admits that France was disappointing against a Luxembourg team that did little except defend in numbers and he is likely to experiment with several changes against Croatia.
”We were not very good and not very punchy going forward. We lacked impact,” Blanc said. ”But I won’t give you my starting lineup, because I don’t know it yet.”
Blanc has pledged not to totally overhaul his team, however.
One likely change should see goalkeeper Steve Mandanda starting instead of No. 1 Hugo Lloris, Alou Diarra may replace Yann M’Vila in central midfield, and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema may be rested for either Lorient’s Kevin Gameiro or Paris Saint-Germain’s Guillaume Hoarau.
Although Malouda could be another one who is rested, with Chelsea still competing in the Champions League and hoping to get back in the league title race, he is desperate to play and make amends for his lackluster performance last Friday.
”I was disappointed and frustrated by my individual performance,” Malouda said. ”It was quite a frustrating match to play in for an attacking player, we just couldn’t get anything going.”
For Ribery and Patrice Evra, Tuesday’s game will be the first time they have played in front of their home fans since before last year’s World Cup.
Evra and Ribery were both given bans for their part in France’s World Cup training strike, and have since said sorry and served out their respective suspensions.
But Ribery, who stands to make his 50th international appearance, expects a hostile reception.
”There will be 80,000 fans, all French. I think there will be some whistling,” Ribery said. ”We will have to accept that, get through it, and keep moving forward.”
Croatia coach Slaven Bilic, meanwhile, will need to pick his players up after their surprise 1-0 loss to Georgia in Euro 2012 qualifying on Saturday. That loss means Croatia now trails leader Greece by one point after five games in Group F.
For Blanc and Bilic, Tuesday’s match will evoke memories of the 1998 World Cup semifinals at Stade de France.
Blanc was sent off for lightly slapping Bilic’s face as they prepared to contest a corner, and he subsequently missed the biggest match of his career as France won the final 3-0 against Brazil.
Bilic was heavily criticized for the theatrical way he rolled on the floor, but Blanc has never blamed him.