The top two sides in Group D of Euro 2012 qualifying meet when France travel to Minsk to battle Belarus on Friday.France have won four of their five fixtures in the group so far and hold a four-point lead over their opponents, who have been the only side to defeat them in qualifying so far.
That result came back in September, as midfielder Sergey Kislyak made himself a national hero and stunned more than 76,000 fans in the Stade de France with his late goal.
Belarus won that match 1-0 and revenge will surely be on the mind of Laurent Blanc’s squad as they look to book their fifth successive victory in qualifying.
“We didn’t play well (against Belarus),” Blanc said.
“We were too sluggish and lacked bite against a team that defended well and scored a goal against us when we were defending badly. On Friday, we will have to defend well.”
After that defeat, France have gone on to win their next four matches, all by a 2-0 scoreline.
Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has been one of the keys, netting in four of France’s last seven encounters as he enjoyed a profitable second half of the season at both club and country level.
Not conceding in their last four matches has shown just how stable the French defence has become under Blanc – a former central defender himself.
They have every reason to feel confident despite the travel factor on Friday, given their six-match unbeaten run includes the scalps of England and Brazil in friendly internatonals.
It is no surprise that Benzema scored on both of those occasions. Following the retirement from international football of Thierry Henry, he is now the country’s go-to man and key striker.
If Belarus can stop him they will fancy their own chances, especially with the victory in Paris last year under their belts.
Belarus have not won in their last three matches but boast an impressive defensive record in Euro 2012 qualifying, having conceded just once in their five matches – just like their opponents.
They did lose 1-0 to Albania in their last fixture and manager Bernd Stange is without eight first-team regulars, including the suspended Sergei Kornilenko and Dmitri Molosh and injured Aleksandr Hleb.
Marvin Martin will make his international debut for France after impressing for Sochaux this season while defender Eric Abidal will make his first appearance for his country since recovering from surgery for a liver tumour.