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 Beschastnykh, who has not played a full game for Russia for more than a year.
Two of Russia's best attacking midfielders, Andrei Kanchelskis and the Spartak Moscow captain, Ilya Tsymbalar are also out of today's game.
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 also return.