England take on France in a couple of hours as this summer's big tournament really kicks into life, but what can Roy's boys expect from our continental neighbours? We've got some real insight from someone that really knows his stuff - Andrew Gibney of the French Football Weekly. Here, Andrew gives us the lowdown on what he thinks we can expect from the French team tonight - read up now and impress your mates with your insider knowledge before kick off! Here's what Andrew had to say...
"Tonight the Donbass Arena in Donetsk will be awash with English crosses and French tricolours as two of the top nations in European football meet in the Ukraine in what will be one of the most important games in Group D.
There is no doubt this is a game worthy of Quarter or Semi-Final status, and who knows both could meet again later in the tournament, however both are faced with the tricky task of facing off in the first group game, with the threat of elimination looming depending on the result.
When the two teams last met back in October the French dominated the game from start till finish, but could only manage a 2-1 victory at Wembley. For the French this was a monumental result in the new era under Laurent Blanc, it showed that the troubles of South Africa were behind them and the new breed was good enough to pick up results against some of Europe’s finest. Recent results against Germany and Brazil continued to boost their spirits.
Clouds still linger though; the memories of World Cup 2010 remain. Patrice Evra is still roundly booed by the home fans. Questions over the form of Franck Ribery remain. Expectations in France are not as high as you might think. For a team that has now gone 21 games without defeat, predicting a place in the Quarter-Finals as a success seems to be playing down their chances. With some of the players at Laurent Blanc’s disposal, this side is capable of at least reaching the semi-finals.
Just like England’s conquerors in South Africa, France play a similar formation to the Germans, but with a couple of tweaks. The back four still remains. Patrice Evra should start on the left despite a late charge from Manchester City’s Gael Clichy. On the other flank is a player new to most. Lille’s Mathieu Debuchy has benefited from Bacary Sagna’s leg-break; the 26-year old was a major part of Lille’s league and cup double in 2011. This season he has continued to develop and his rampaging runs down the right are a constant thorn against the other Ligue 1 clubs. Debuchy started his career as a midfielder and has developed those skills in becoming a top full-back. It should be a very interesting battle watching how he and Ashley Cole match-up down the England left.
The midfield has gone through a couple of changes and it could still cause problems for Blanc as the match draws closer. Interesting that in only two years the side has gone through so much change, from the team that lost 2-1 to South Africa in Bloemfontein only three players from that starting XI are likely to start against England. Marseille’s Alou Diarra was the deepest lying midfielder that day and the former Bordeaux captain surprisingly could be taking up the same position in the opening game. Rennes exciting midfielder Yann M’Vila was supposed to be first choice but after turning his ankle in the friendly against Serbia it looks like the 21-year old will miss the first group game, giving Diarra the chance to impress both his old club boss, and the fans back home.
Premier League fans will be more familiar with the other players in France’s midfield. Yohan Cabaye has been a revelation for Newcastle United this season, he will play in front of Diarra and has recently been given the green light from Blanc to venture further forward giving Les Bleus another attacking dimension. Florent Malouda and Samir Nasri will join Cabaye a little further forward. After a very mediocre season with Chelsea Malouda has gone from struggling winger to a more central role, it seems to suit him very well and against Serbia he was undoubtedly the best player on the park, scoring a wonderful left footed strike.
During the qualifying campaign Blanc played 4-2-3-1 for the majority of the games, but recently he has developed it more towards a 4-3-3. Diarra, Cabaye and Malouda make up the midfield three and Nasri starts out on the right with a license to come inside and find space, on the left is where England need to be most cautious. For that is where they will find Franck Ribery. There has never been a doubt over the winger’s form in club football, however on the international stage he has always failed to provide the same spark. That seems to have changed. Against Iceland the Bayern Munich star linked up with substitute forward Olivier Giroud with a lovely one-two and beautifully chipped the Icelandic ‘keeper. It was Ribery’s first goal in 21 games for France, and it seems to have awoken the winger from his slumber. During the three warm-up games Ribery scored three goals with only three shots on goal. The most recent, against Estonia, was a superb goal, linking with Karim Benzema he controlled the forward’s back heel perfectly before finishing with aplomb.
Later in the game he then turned provider for Benzema for his second and France’s third. Worryingly for England the explosive winger is finding his international form on the eve of the tournament. Roy Hodgson’s side are first up to face a rejuvenated Ribery and his French teammates. This could spell trouble for the Three Lions.
Both teams would probably have preferred to face each other in the last of the three group games, by then both teams could have already qualified and the threat of elimination beyond doubt. When the teams meet on June 11th the winner will be one more win away from the Quarter-Finals, the losers will be one game from going home. That is something both sides will be desperate to avoid. Tonight’s match has all the making of being a wonderful spectacle."