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France 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


Les 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 expectations further. 

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




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