France come into their Euro 2012 opener on an unbeaten run which stretches back to 2010. Yet there is a muted confidence about the team following the disastrous World Cup showing in South Africa two years’ ago. There the French went out at the group stage, picking up one point and scoring just one goal. They will surely do better this time, but the question is how far can Les Bleus go? Karim Benzema has enjoyed a superb season for Real Madrid and showed his confidence with two expertly taken strikes against Estonia in their final warm-up game. And Franck Ribery finally seems to be playing well in a France shirt, a welcome and timely boost. For coach Laurent Blanc though, there are a number of question marks. Who else to play in attacking midfield? Samir Nasri and Mathieu Valbuena could both start, while Florent Malouda, Jeremy Menez and Marvin Martin are also pushing for selection. Defensively Philippe Mexes and Adil Rami seem set to get the nod, with Patrice Evra and Mathieu Debuchy on either side of the back four in front of Hugo Lloris. France certainly have the personnel and try to play a possession-based attacking game, but whether they have got what it takes to go all the way is open to question. There are doubts over the future of Blanc, who does not seem to enjoy a good relationship with the French Football Federation president, and anything short of the semi-finals could trigger an early departure from the post. Not So Great Expectations For a change, England come into a major tournament without the weight of expectation on their shoulders. But some things do not change and a row over the non-selection of Rio Ferdinand has prompted questions and criticism of Roy Hodgson, barely a month into his new role as manager following Fabio Capello’s resignation earlier this year. Ferdinand was omitted in favour of John Terry, with the two not seeing eye-to-eye after the Chelsea man was alleged to have racially abused Rio’s brother Anton. He denies the charges, but faces a court case after Euro 2012, and many feel the Manchester United man deserved his place in the squad more. On the pitch, England have adopted a more defensive approach in recent months, characterised by the 1-0 win over Spain at the end of last year, achieved with discipline at the back and a clinical counter attack. Defence has long been the Three Lions’ strong suit and with experienced heads in the squad, for once unburdened by expectation, Hodgson’s side should be a particularly tough nut to crack. But going forward there is much to ponder. Ashley Young has been the country’s best player recently, showing enterprise and creativity. If England can get him and Theo Walcott into space on the counter attack, they could spring a surprise this summer. Recent form France: France 4-0 Estonia (05/06; Friendly) France 2-0 Serbia (31/05; Friendly) France 3-2 Iceland (27/05; Friendly) England: England 1-0 Belgium (02/06; Friendly) Norway 0-1 England (26/05; Friendly) England 2-3 Netherlands (29/02; Friendly) Players to watch France – Karim Benzema : In the words of Christophe Duggary, Benzema is France’s “one great player.” The Real Madrid forward scored 21 times in La Liga for the Spanish champions, from just 26 starts. He has also scored and set up more than any other player in the French side during Blanc’s reign so far, and it was his skill and strength which put them ahead the last time they met England in a friendly match. Since Jose Mourinho arrived in Madrid, Benzema has been transformed, working harder and developing into the all-round striker he always had the promise to be. Strong and now conscious of the defensive side of the game, his skill and finishing ability mean he is a handful for all defences. And against an England team containing one of the more physical centre backs in European football in John Terry, he has the requisite characteristics to get the better of his opponent. England – Steven Gerrard : Gerrard has never really hit the same heights for England as he has for Liverpool, but he will have an important role here in the absence of Frank Lampard. For all his good points, Gerrard has often been criticised for his lack of tactical discipline, however in a team managed by Hodgson he will need to rectify that. Against France he will be expected to help Scott Parker form a defensive line in front of the back four to nullify Nasri, Ribery and whomever else Blanc picks up front. His experience and ability going forward could also be invaluable if England are to grab an important breakaway goal. Match Prediction Despite an impressive attacking display against Estonia in France’s final warm-up, Blanc was unhappy with his team’s defending and he will need them to perform much better against an England outfit which has the ability to cause problems on the counter attack. This is likely to be a game dominated by the French, who have better ball players in the centre of the pitch and should be able to push England back. Yann M’Vila or Alou Diarra will provide a defensive shield as well as a tough opponent for Scott Parker in the centre, with Yohan Cabaye looking to push forward and supply the French attacking line. Hodgson will set his team up to deal with that and break out quickly from defence. The question will be whether France are able to get through the English backline. England have won none of their last five games against the French, and will look to Young and Walcott to change that. But the French backline is not bad, despite Blanc’s concern, and they conceded the second fewest number of goals of anyone during qualifying. They should be able to break down England at least once with the attacking talents of Ribery, Nasri and Benzema, so expect a French triumph. France 3-1 England. For the very best odds on France v England and all Euro 2012 matches, make sure you visit TXODDS.com.