france flagWorld Soccer: You earned your first call-up to the national team in August 2010 under somewhat bizarre circumstances…

Yohan Cabaye: It was definitely different. It wasn’t long after the infamous player strike that happened during the 2010 World Cup. Laurent Blanc had just taken over from Raymond Domenech and wanted to show how we all understood that what had happened in South Africa was not what anyone wanted to see.

So for his first game in charge he selected 23 players, none of whom had been in South Africa. It was a definite statement. We lost 2-1 and I only got on for about 15 to 20 minutes, so I just tried to keep things as simple as possible and not make any mistakes. It’s tough when you only play for a short period of time and I don’t think I did particularly well, to be honest. But Laurent called me up again, so I can’t have done too badly.

And now you’re an integral member of a national squad that hasn’t lost for 18 matches…

We’re on a long unbeaten run and that’s great, of course, but to be frank we were poor at both of the last two major international tournaments, the World Cup in 2010 and the Euros in 2008.

How do you think you’ve played in recent internationals?

I think I’ve done OK. The most important thing for me is to show when I’m out on the pitch that Laurent can count on me to work hard and to show that I have the necessary ability.

Did moving from Lille to Newcastle United last summer help your international ambitions?

It’s definitely helped me being at Newcastle because there are a lot of great players and full internationals there. Every game we play is hugely intense. You come up against big teams all the time, strong teams, and there are no easy matches. I’ve learnt a lot. Playing in midfield in England is a real lung-buster! In France there’s a lot more emphasis on the tactical side of the game, but the full-on nature of football in the Premier League is really helpful when it comes to being ready to play at international level.

How do you feel about Group D, where you have been drawn with England, Ukraine and Sweden?

It’s a difficult group, but it’s probably fair to say that there are tougher groups in the competition. The Ukraine will be a strong team. They’re at home and that will count for a lot. We beat them last year, but it wasn’t at all easy. And then you’ve got Sweden, who are traditionally powerful and have one of the world’s great players in [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic.
Of course, we’ll be going into the group looking to win our matches and we’ll be very determined. For me, England are the favourites, but after that we’ll see.

Do you really think England are favourites ahead of France?

Well they’re the first team we come up against and they’re likely to be the most difficult to beat. Yes they have some uncertainty surrounding their coach, but for me England have great players who are all very dangerous. We’ll have to prepare well for the game and we’ll have to play well if we want to win and get our campaign off to a good start.

How do you see things going for you personally this summer?

It’s my first big competition so I don’t really know what to expect, to be honest. But I’ll definitely be giving it my all and I’d like to think that we’ll behave well and represent our country in the right way. The first objective is to qualify from our group, of course. Anything can happen in a single match and we’ve seen that with the French team recently. We’ve beaten some big teams since the World Cup – England, Brazil, Germany – so we know that we can do it.

So can France win Euro 2012?

Personally, I fancy Spain, Holland and Germany. But then again, who doesn’t? It will be hard for us. We’ve come a long way in a short time and it’s a hugely difficult competition to win. There are a lot of other countries who are much bigger favourites than we are. But we’ll be going to the Euros with plenty of ambition and if we can get through the group phase, then why not? Anything can happen.

Interview by Howard Johnson