Football: France guard against Russia

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The Independent Online
ROGER LEMERRE, the France coach, was a a happy man after his side's 2-0 win over Armenia, not least because the game was ideal preparation for the next European Championship qualifier at home to Russia, as both opponents have a similar style.

The world champions, having been held 0-0 at the Stade de France by their chief group rivals Ukraine on Saturday, emerged better than expected from their back-to-back Group Four qualifiers. While France were beating the Armenians, Ukraine dropped two points in a surprise 1-1 draw at home against Iceland, allowing the French to join them at the top of the group.

"It's a good result against Armenia, a team who played their own game against us," Lemerre said on Thursday. "That didn't surprise me because seven or eight of their players play in Russia. Besides, Armenia and Russia have more or less the same game.

"I fear Russia at home on 5 June more than our trip to Ukraine [in September] because the match against the Russians will be more open. Let's not forget they gave us a tough time."

France beat Russia 3-2 in Moscow in October, virtually putting paid to their hopes of qualifying. But the fourth-placed Russians have the ability to influence the outcome of the group.

"We must keep the players motivated during the two months before the [Russia] match," Lemerre said. "We'll have to find friendlies."

Lemerre said he was not concerned about the possibility of his players picking up an injury during Jean-Pierre Papin's testimonial at Marseilles' Velodrome on 30 May.

"The French team are very keen to take part in Papin's jubilee. It will be the team's big re-assembly before the match against Russia," he said.

Lemerre found plenty to please him in attack on Wednesday, even though several good chances were scorned.

"Against Ukraine on Saturday, the French did not perhaps have the courage to go full out for victory... against Armenia I felt there was a bit more will."

France had three recognised central strikers on the pitch in the second half - Arsenal's Nicolas Anelka, Sylvain Wiltord and David Trezeguet - but failed to add to their two first-half goals.

They missed the vision of their playmaker Zinedine Zidane - the Juventus midfielder did not play in either match because of a knee injury.