Laurent Blanc: Well, we were in the fourth pot, so we knew we were going to be drawn with two of the top seeds. We could have got Holland, Spain or Germany, so to have avoided all of them – teams that have serious aspirations of winning the tournament – has to be a good thing. But you’ve still got to prove yourself on the pitch.
Is it difficult to be in a group with a host nation?
It’s never easy to play a host nation. The Ukraine will have the support of their public behind them. That will count in their favour. We played them last year and I thought they were a decent team. We did win 4-1 that day, but it was only in the last 10 minutes that we really came through, so we’re expecting a difficult match.
You’ve taken part in big tournaments as an international player, of course. Will that help you at Euro 2012?
Yes, it will. I’m not saying that it’s indispensable, but I think it is a plus. If you’ve already been through something, then that experience counts. So I think that having done that helps me a lot, even if it offers no guarantees. It can certainly be useful in your day-to-day dealings, in preparing properly and in helping you to anticipate the kind of problems you might face.
You gave England a bit of a lesson the last time the two countries met, at Wembley in 2010. Have they improved since then?
To be honest the England we saw that night wasn’t the real England because they had a few key players out injured. There’s a certain rivalry when the two countries meet; a certain pleasure that we take in beating the English and they likewise in beating us. And that means they’re always really tight games.
Do you think the uncertainty that surrounds the England manager’s position will have a negative effect on them at Euro 2012?
It cuts both ways because there’s no such thing as the ideal circumstances going into a tournament. The Danes came together at the very last moment in 1992 because they hadn’t even qualified – it was only when Yugoslavia couldn’t compete that they were admitted – and they ended up winning the tournament. I suspect it’s better to have a smooth and hassle-free preparation, of course, but it’s no guarantee that you’ll get the results.
What about Sweden?
They’re a decent team that can beat the very best on any given day. We know a few of their guys because they’ve played here in France, so we know all about their qualities. They have elements of the English footballing culture, with tough players, yet they’re very technical at the same time. And let’s not forget that they have an exceptional player up front in [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic. They’ve got a lot of quality and you have to take them seriously. Believe me, I take them very seriously.
The national team was in complete disarray when you took over. How did you manage to reconstruct the team so efficiently?
It wasn’t easy. We had a hard time understanding what happened in 2010 with the player strike and it really hurt our sport deeply. The image of French football and the French team was horribly compromised. Clearly the best way of getting over all of that was to qualify for the Euros. I had to mix older and younger players and fix a common objective, which was qualification. But there was also an objective that was more about the social side of things – and that was to rebuild our image.
You’ve already beaten Germany this year. Does that mean you can win the tournament?
Sincerely, at this moment in time, no. It’s not a lack of ambition that makes me say that, but I am realistic. In any given game one team can beat another, but it’s more difficult in a tournament. But once the tournament gets underway we’ll all be trying very hard to win it.
Interview by Howard Johnson