Football: France alarmed by Zidane ankle injury

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The Independent Online
FRANCE returned from a four-day training session in Finland yesterday with doubts concerning the fitness of their playmaker Zinedine Zidane.

Since a tiring 1-0 win over Finland last Friday, Zidane has been struggling with an injured ankle. Although he is expected to return to training today the French team doctor, Jean-Marcel Ferret, said: "It is preoccupying because there is always that fear that he will not be able to play the first match."

If Zidane does not recover his place against South Africa in Marseilles on Friday will most likely be taken by Robert Pires, the Metz midfielder.

Germany suffered injury and illness worries involving two players yesterday, less than 24 hours after arriving in France. The wing-back Christian Ziege was unable to train because of a fever along with the defensive midfielder Thomas Helmer, who has a thigh problem.

The Germans' opening match is six days away - they face the United States in Paris on 15 June - but the problems gave coach Berti Vogts a sobering reminder of his injury-hit Euro 96 campaign when he struggled to field a team for the final and had to ask special permission to fly in another player.

With the average age of the German squad nearly 30 - one of the oldest in the finals - Vogts knows that veteran players can take longer to recover from injuries. Helmer is 33.

"It's a real shame for Helmer because he has been mentally in good form and feeling positive," Vogts said. "I hope he is going to get back soon. I hope he will be able to do some light training. On Ziege, we will leave it to the doctors to decide when he can return."

Italy, who open against Chile in Bordeaux on Thursday, deferred a decision on whether to send the defender Moreno Torricelli home after the team doctor said his injured right foot may heal quickly.

"He is suffering from a deep bone bruise which causes him severe pain," Dr Andrea Ferretti said. "However, it should heal quickly and the player should resume training soon. The next two days will be decisive."

Meanwhile, the Juventus striker Filippo Inzaghi is pushing hard for a place in the first team but says he will happily play the role of "super- sub" if required.

A twisted left knee forced Michael Laudrup to miss training with Denmark yesterday. The Danish coach, Bo Johansson, already troubled by a knock suffered by the Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, played down the injury as the 33-year-old Ajax midfielder worked out gently with several coaching staff.

"He's not practising today but it shouldn't be a problem," Johansson said. Laudrup is the sole survivor of Denmark's only previous World Cup finals appearance in 1986.

n Fernand Sastre, the man responsible for bringing the World Cup finals to France, has been admitted to a Paris hospital suffering from lung cancer. Sastre, the chairman of the French Football Federation from 1972 to 1984, is the co-president of the World Cup organising committee with Michel Platini.