England and France launch their respective quests for major tournament redemption here on Monday in a high-stakes Group ‘D' collision that neither side can afford to lose.

Two years ago, England and France departed the World Cup in South Africa in disgrace after a series of abysmal performances that saw both teams making painfully early exits from the competition.

England was sent packing 4-1 by Germany in the last 16, while France's players triggered a national inquiry after a first-round elimination which followed Les Bleus' notorious training ground mutiny.

Regrouping impressively

Since the nadir of South Africa, France has regrouped impressively, finding a greater sense of unity and cohesion under the guidance of coach Laurent Blanc, who replaced the hapless Raymond Domenech.

Blanc has overseen a resurgence in French fortunes since taking over, lifting them from the low of 27th in the FIFA rankings in 2010 to 14th.

More impressively, the French have arrived at the Euros with the look of a team that is hitting form at the right time.

A fluid 4-0 demolition of Estonia on Monday stretched France's unbeaten streak to 21 games, a run that includes 15 wins and only six draws, while its victims have included Brazil, Germany and England.

Selectorial headaches

Blanc also has few selectorial issues to resolve, with only an ankle injury to Yann M'Vila giving him a headache ahead of Monday's opener at the Donbass Arena in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

Alou Diarra is expected to deputise for M'Vila as France lines up in a familiar 4-3-3 which will be spearheaded by the attacking triumvirate of Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery.

France comprehensively outplayed an under-strength England in a 2-1 friendly victory at Wembley in November 2010, but Blanc has sounded a note of caution heading into Monday's meeting.

“It's all well and good to say they're weakened, but what concerns me is that England will play in a certain manner, based on their qualities and their philosophy,” Blanc said.

“They'll give everything because when the French are against the English, it raises the stakes. We'll have to be strong. It will be difficult.”

Yet while France has enjoyed a steady resurgence since South Africa, England by contrast has spent two years lurching fitfully from one crisis to the next.

A chaotic build-up saw John Terry stripped of the captaincy, which in turn prompted the resignation of manager Fabio Capello in February.

The last-minute appointment of Roy Hodgson left many to conclude that England's Euro 2012 campaign has been holed beneath the waterline before a ball has been kicked, a feeling made more acute by a slew of injuries that have seen Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Gary Cahill withdraw in the past fortnight.

Throw in the suspension which means Wayne Rooney is unavailable for the opening two games, as well as the long-term injury to Jack Wilshere, and the odds of Hodgson and England enjoying a successful tournament appear even longer.

‘Players confident'

However, Hodgson insists his players believe they can inflict France's first defeat since 2010.

“The players think they can win, no question,” Hodgson said.

“There's no fear in that respect. There's healthy respect as they deserve to have.

Aware of players

“We know France's players — many of them play in England — we know the quality of those players. Our players have come across them week in, week out.

“And we must respect the fact that when you go 21 matches unbeaten you've got a pretty good team there. If you went 21 matches unbeaten in a league that's quite an achievement.

“But I don't get the feeling that our players are in any way cowed by the task ahead of them.”

Star Wars

In the absence of Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young (left) is perhaps England's most important attacking player. After Rooney returns, Young may well switch to the left, but in the first two group games he will play in the former's position, behind a primary striker (either Danny Welbeck or Andy Carroll). Quick and direct, Young fits Roy Hodgson's approach well. With his constant running in the channels, the 26-year-old will look to feed on long, straight passes from the back — like when he scored in the Norway friendly. And this is again where he can trouble the French defence. Neither of the centre-backs Adil Rami (right) or Philippe Mexes is particularly quick, and will find it hard to deal with balls played in behind them. Given Young's predilection for running in from slightly left of centre (even in this role), Rami in particular looks in for a difficult time. The Valencia man is a good, tough defender but may struggle to track back if Young gets away. In such circumstances, Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny is possibly a better option. Laurent Blanc, though, doesn't seem to rate him high. — Shreedutta Chidananda

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