full of optimism
Defending European champions France have entered the new year
full of optimism after following up their faultless EURO 2004
qualifying campaign with an emphatic friendly victory over
Germany in November.
Friday, 23 January 2004
Bleus have put the disappointment of the World Cup behind them
in the best possible way: playing swashbuckling football and
sweeping aside virtually every opponent placed in front of
them. In the past 16 months, Jacques Santini's rejuvenated
team have won 17 out of 18 matches, scoring 51 goals and
conceding just seven.
But after lifting the 2003 Confederations Cup and qualifying
for this summer's finals in Portugal with a 100 per cent
record in Group 1, Santini has been keen to urge caution.
"The results of forthcoming friendlies against Germany,
Belgium, the Netherlands and Brazil will provide a better
indication of what level we are at," he said in October,
before a 3-0 demolition of Germany in Gelsenkirchen raised
The most significant alteration from the side that failed to
score a single goal in Korea/Japan has been the switch from a
4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-4-2, allowing Thierry Henry to play
in his preferred central striking role alongside David
Trezeguet. Henry, so often unstoppable in that position for
Arsenal, scored France's opener against Germany and laid on
the next two for Trezeguet.
"I personally feel more comfortable with someone up
alongside me," admitted the Juventus forward, while Henry
added: "David is the ideal partner for me. I've said that
all along but not a lot of people listened to me."
Santini, though, is not completely worry-free. He is likely to
be without Djibril Cissé this summer as the Auxerre striker
faces a five-match ban from competitive internationals
following incidents in France's European Under-21 Championship
play-off against Portugal.
The French Football Federation has lodged an appeal, but
should it be unsuccessful Cissé would not be available for
selection at EURO 2004 until the final – making it highly
improbable he will be selected.
With Olympique de Marseille's Steve Marlet and Arsenal's
Sylvain Wiltord both struggling with injury, and Manchester
City's Nicolas Anelka unlikely to return from exile, Santini
could find himself short of cover up front.
Another potential headache is the issue of the captaincy.
Skipper Marcel Desailly, 35, has often been left on the bench
by his club Chelsea this season and Santini has admitted he
might be tempted to opt for a younger pair of legs in
Portugal. "Marcel is not guaranteed the captaincy because
he is not guaranteed to start next summer," he insisted
after France's final qualifier.
Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane is the leading candidate to take
the armband in Desailly's absence, while his Chelsea team-mate
William Gallas could partner Mikaël Silvestre at the back.
Jean-Alain Boumsong and Philippe Mexès, both of Auxerre, are
in contention for a place at centre-half too, though Santini
also has the option of moving Lilian Thuram across from
right-back - as indeed he has done for the last two games. -
By Matt Spiro