Football: French stay in optimistic mood

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FRANCE COUNTED the cost yesterday of their 4-0 demolition of Saudi Arabia which left their playmaker Zinedine Zidane facing a two-game suspension and the Marseilles striker Christophe Dugarry injured and doubtful to play again at the World Cup.

Dugarry's torn right thigh muscle has given a big chance to the two young Monaco strikers, Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet, who came on as substitute for Dugarry. They looked so sharp and at ease together that they seem set to continue as a partnership.

Henry netted twice against the Saudis and is the joint top scorer at the finals with three goals, while Trezeguet got off the mark after coming off the bench. The French coach, Aime Jacquet, will also have the bonus of Auxerre's Stephane Guivarc'h available again after getting injured in France's opening match. But there is no clear replacement for Zidane who runs the French show in midfield and his loss will inevitably involve a change in style and tactics.

France's captain, Didier Deschamps, tried to play down the importance of the loss of Zidane. "It's a nuisance because Zinedine plays an important part in our tactical scheme but we have 22 players here and we must all fight together." he said. "We need everybody and it's only just starting. There are plenty of reasons for us to be very optimistic."

With France already sure of their place in the last 16, Jacquet would probably have rested Zidane anyway for France's last match against Denmark on June 24 in Lyon. But the likely loss of their playmaker for what may well be a tricky second-round fixture will be irksome, at the very least, for Jacquet.

"We have qualified for the second round, which is the main thing, and we must win our next match." Jacquet said. "Our goal will always be victory, even without Zidane."

Jacquet's options include using either the Internazionale striker Youri Djorkaeff or Robert Pires as the playmaker, though neither of them normally take on the role for their clubs.

Pires said he was not afraid of the challenge. "Even if I'm not exactly the same type of player, I'm ready to replace Zinedine. If I do so, I hope the other players will trust me in the same way they trust him," he said.

Though the team felt sorry for Dugarry, who had earned his place after coming on as substitute for the injured Guivarc'h against South Africa and scoring France's first goal, the replacements seemed ready for the fray.

"I wanted to score. Now I want to do it again." said the 20-year-old Trezeguet, who has yet to start a match for France. "I want to play in all the matches. I'm ready and ambitious. We have to be ambitious. We can win this thing."

Henry, 20, like his friend Trezeguet, confirmed he was feeling great. "It's true that I'm in shape," he said. "I'm able to use my speed to trouble defenders but that's what I'm here for. Now I have to stay focused. We've still got a long way to go."

South Africa, embroiled in the battle of the red cards in their 1-1 draw with Denmark on Thursday, have not given up in their quest to reach the second round. Although they have only one point from two games, their coach, Philippe Troussier, said yesterday that he was confident South Africa could overcome Saudi Arabia in their last group match on Wednesday.

But to turn round a four-goal difference in the standings they would need to beat the Saudis comprehensively and hope France put a few goals past Denmark.

"We need France to beat Denmark and we have seen enough of both teams to believe that is a strong possibility," Troussier said.