THREE victories and all of them deserved have not only raised the confidence of the French but increased the expectation, which can be a dangerous cocktail. But Paraguay got into the second round only because Nigeria fielded a blatantly reduced-strength side after they had qualified for the next round. They had not scored in their previous two games. So, ironically, France are now responsible for righting an injustice done to Spain, with whom they share little love. In spite of Henry's three goals, the French still fret about finding a dependable scorer and relying too much on quick defenders to do their attacking. Finishing is a problem, the more so since they are again deprived of Zidane's clever prompting. But Djorkaeff gets more influential by the game. He should find ways through a Paraguay team who scrambled through a difficult first-round group. They also have probably the most in-form goalkeeper of the lot in Chilavert, the inspiring captain and occasional free-kick taker. Most of their best forward movement is directed towards Benitez, who runs at defences and has a sting in his shot. Paraguay set out as 80-1 outsiders to win the cup, which assumed they would not get as far as this. Yet Ayala in defence has served them well. Chilavert has promised he will become the first goalkeeper to score in the World Cup finals. He could do that today, but remain on the losing side.
Probable teams: France: Barthez; Thuram, Blanc, Desailly, Lizarazu, Deschamps (capt.), Petit, Djorkaeff, Henry, Pires, Guivarc'h.
Paraguay: Chilavert (capt); Arce, Gamarra, Ayala, Sarabia, Caniza, Enciso, Benitez, Paredes, Brizuela, Cardozo.
Nigeria v Denmark (St Denis, 8pm)
AFTER winning friends with the refreshingly positive football of their first two matches, Nigeria lost many of them by fielding such a weakened team against Paraguay in the third. Their coach, the crafty, much-travelled Bora Milutinovic, simply dismissed criticism on the basis that he had to protect four players who were on yellow cards in case they missed today's more important (for them) confrontation. Spain's complaints have to be balanced against the fact that they had lost to Nigeria 3-2, which was the crucial match in the group. In that meeting the Nigerian Olympic champions took advantage of Zubizarreta scoring a ghastly own goal, which led to his announcement of retirement, but they twice had to come back from being a goal down. Then there was a stunning shot from Oliseh. With Ikpeba and George threats to any side, they are going to trouble the Danes, who have been relying on the match-hardened Laudrup brothers, especially the older Michael, and the goalkeeping of Schmeichel, which has been marred by his only known weakness - poor kicked clearances. Nigeria will have noticed that the best way to beat him (often the only way) is to blast an unstoppable shot through a crowded goalmouth, as performed so spectacularly by Petit, of France. But that is not usually their style and the danger to their progress could well be over-elaboration. That could play into the hands of the solid Danish defensive trio of Schjonberg, Hogh and Rieper.
Probable teams: Denmark: Schmeichel; Rieper, Hogh, Heintze, Colding, Schjonberg, Helveg, Nielsen, Laudrup, Laudrup, Sand.
Nigeria: Rufai; Babayaro, Okechukwu (capt), West, George, Adepoju, Okocha, Lawal, Oliseh, Ikpeba, Yekini.Reuse content