Football: France need to return to form

RUSSIA AND France meet in a Group Four Euro 2000 qualifier today aiming to bounce back from disappointing starts to their campaigns.

The world champions were held to a 1-1 draw in Iceland while Russia opened with a 3-2 defeat against Ukraine, who pose a serious threat in what is a very tough group.

Russia will look to a 1-0 friendly win over France in March for inspiration but the nerves will be there, too, knowing that a second defeat would leave them in real trouble even at this early stage.

Russia's new coach, Anatoly Byshovets, has vowed to attack in what will be his first home game in charge after three successive defeats away.

"I am hoping for a positive result," he said. "Our backs are to the wall and that is why we will be playing to win. I hope our players understand that."

But penetrating the tough French defence might not be easy, especially from what is an under-strength Russian attack. Injuries to both Igor Kolyvanov of Bologna and SV Hamburg's Sergei Kiryakov have left Byshovets with just two recognised strikers, newcomer Oleg Teryokhin, of Dynamo Moscow, and Racing Santander's Vladimir Besch-astnykh, who has not played a full game for Russia for more than a year.

In addition, two of Russia's best attacking midfielders, Andrei Kanchelskis and the Spartak Moscow captain, Ilya Tsymbalar, who has scored in two European Champions' League wins this season, are also out of today's game.

But the Russians have been lifted by Spartak's shock defeat of the European champions, Real Madrid, last week.

"Spartak's victory over Real showed everyone that nothing is impossible," said midfielder Alexander Mostovoi, who spent several seasons in France playing for Strasbourg before moving to Spain's Celta Vigo.

"Our game will depend on many things, such as the weather and quality of pitch, but we need to win and therefore we have to play aggressively."

The French playmaker, Zinedine Zidane, also thinks that Russia will go on the attack - but says that could open up the game.

"Our opponents must take the risk and that will give us a chance," the Juventus midfielder said.

The France coach, Roger Lemerre, will rely almost exclusively on the World Cup-winning team - having got over the problems with his goalkeepers.

Lionel Charbonnier walked out because he could not accept being Bernard Lama's understudy in the absence of injured Fabien Barthez, but the defensive and midfield bloc should be the same as against Brazil.

Arsenal's Emmanuel Petit is back after missing the Iceland match with a sinus problem and defenders Laurant Blanc and Marcel Desailly return from suspension.

Nicolas Anelka looks a certain starter up front and will be partnered by Christophe Du-garry or Robert Pires, or both if Lemerre looks for more width. "I could well play with one front man and put people on the flanks to ensure movement," Lemerre said.

Desailly said: "After the draw in Iceland, we are now in a situation where we must win against the principal adversary in our group. We must be as strong as in the World Cup."

Andorra's team of firemen, insurance salesmen and students attempt to pull off the first win in their international history when they come up against Ukraine.

The Pyrenean principality are Europe's worst national team according to the sport's world governing body, Fifa, whose latest rankings placed them 182nd, four places behind their nearest Continental rivals and fellow minnows San Marino.

The Ukrainians arrived in Andorra yesterday, if not quite on the crest of a wave, at least with overwhelming optimism they can make further pro- gress towards the Euro 2000 finals after beating Russia 3-2 in their opening match.

The Ukraine coach, Josef Sabo, will be looking mainly to Dynamo Kiev striker Andrei Shevchenko, his country's current player of the year, to find his way through the Andorran defence and avoid any embarrassment for the visitors.

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