Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny has said he feels France has been put in a very difficult group - with Sweden, England and Ukraine - for the summer's European Championships. He added that their opening game - against England on 11 June - would be "like a final".
Koscielny, who will be starting France's first few games due to injuries to Younes Kaboul (Tottenham) and Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), added that a loss to England could prove disastrous for Les Bleus. Although the 26 year old defender has admitted to being excited and nervous ahead of appearing in Ukraine and Poland, he added he was very focused on the job at hand.
"Our first match is like a final for us. To play against England is the worst possible draw but it will be an enormous chance for us to progress if we win," ESPN quoted Koscielny as saying.
"We can't afford to lose. Normally you might expect France and England to qualify for the second phase but football never works like that," said Koscielny, according to the Mirror.
"We know this is like a final because defeat would be a disaster. Our first objective is to get out of the group and to lose the first game would make it very difficult," Goal.com reported the Arsenal defender as saying.
Like France, England will also be missing a lot of star players, due to injuries and suspensions, something Koscielny feels will be an advantage for France. However, he cautioned that England, even without Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, will be a tough competitor.
"The absence of Rooney is a joy to us. He is a brilliant player, such a talent. But England have quality," he said, according to ESPN.
The Gunner also admitted he would find it strange to play against Arsenal teammates Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
"We've had a lot of jokes about playing against each other from being on the pitch together and in training at Arsenal. But while we laughed and joked, when the game comes it will be very serious and we must win the game. We all know that," the Daily Mail quoted Koscielny as saying.
The French had a terrible campaign during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, under Raymond Domenech but seem to have made some improvement under present manager Laurent Robert Blanc, since he took charge. The 46 year old Frenchman made a series of changes and began rebuilding around younger players like Samir Nasri (Manchester City) and Karim Benzema (Real Madrid).