Football: Left in the wings but right behind Les Bleus

THE DAVID GINOLA COLUMN
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HERE in France a dream is becoming more vivid with each match that my country wins. But for me, I have to be honest, every time I watch my national team it is a nightmare. I thought maybe the pain of not playing would go away but it is getting worse.

When I look at the French squad, I believe that there is no one who can play better than me on the left side. Aime Jacquet has tried everybody there; now Bernard Diomede as one of all the 19 outfield players used already. But without being big- headed, I continue to believe that the coach has overlooked the best man for the job.

Perhaps it comes home with such force to me because it looks more like the French have real possibilities in the competition. And I do believe they have a good chance of going a long way. To win it? So far the opposition has been limited but we will know more after today's second-round match against Paraguay in Lens.

I was in that town during the week to watch the Spain v Bulgaria match and I must say that I thought "my God, these Spanish will be a big problem" as the match was taking place. It is lucky for France that the results have gone their way. Paraguay should not pose the same threat.

Yes, they are strong but their discipline in the team tactically is not so good. If the French are in good spirits and are mentally well prepared, they will go through. So far they have been, and after a very low-key pre-tournament when the country doubted the team, the mood here now is positive and even the press is behind them. There is a growing passion that is good for the players. I hope they can play with freedom. Despite my personal feelings, I do want them to win.

What has made the difference, I am sure, is the discovery of goalscorers. For the last two years everybody has been tried and Jacquet came back to Christophe Dugarry but now Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet have taken their chances. They are good players but inexperienced and consistency is a problem for the inexperienced. As each game now becomes more difficult, I hope they can retain their form.

What this World Cup has confirmed to me is how important a good striker is to a team - Alan Shearer for England, Ronaldo for Brazil, Gabriel Batistuta for Argentina and Marcelo Salas for Chile are good examples. You can have a solid defence - and I believe the French have probably the best in the competition with Laurent Blanc and Marcel Desailly at its heart - and you can also prepare the game well in the midfield but without someone to perform in the last 30 yards of the pitch, you always have a problem. The teams going home have found that.

We will see, but I don't think France will miss Zinedine Zidane today. We have players who can play in that role, or even a different way without a playmaker. Zidane is very important but sometimes when you have an important player like that you play with only one strategy and forget other options. It is good to mix up your game.

We saw also when France beat Denmark that Youri Djorkaeff began to assume more responsibility for the team. He has the experience, has played good club football for Internazionale in Milan, and the ability to adapt himself. It is the sign of a strong squad that players emerge as the competition unfolds.

Zidane's suspension for two matches does highlight one problem that could undermine the French challenge - the number of yellow cards they have been receiving; eight in the group stage along with the red. They are fortunate with the new rule that single cards are wiped out after the first round.

I think the problem has been that sometimes the team has been nervous and has not the experience of competition to be able to cope. They have, remember, been playing only friendly matches for two years and the rules for those are entirely different. Hopefully, with three matches now behind them, they have learned enough to lose this potentially damaging part of their game.

Given the way the rules have been applied, Zidane had to go for treading on the Saudi Arabian player, even if it was not a bad stamp. It was just unfortunate for him that it was the day when the referees decided to become tougher - Red Thursday - after being criticised for being too lenient early in the tournament.

That to me has been the most annoying aspect - that the rules seem to have changed in the middle of the competition. All this should have been sorted out long ago. I only hope the tackle from behind is also outlawed in club football, as referees must do if they are not to be out of step with the international game.

Now referees are a little confused, I think and we have seen bad decisions that have determined who goes through and who goes home - the disallowed goal for Cameroon against Chile was a scandal, for example. Whole nations are following their team for a month, football is their life, and all of a sudden it is gone because of a mistake. Surely we must soon see referees becoming professional. They must prepare for any situation physically and mentally just the same as players. The World Cup is no place for mistakes.

Tomorrow I begin preparing for a new season. At Tottenham we will already be back in training, with a few days in London before a camp in Switzerland. I will be keeping one eye on the World Cup. Soon I will be playing again but it is sad that it is not in the way I would have wanted. Nevertheless, Allez France.

David Ginola was talking to Ian Ridley

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