Football: Why this World Cup needs fantasy football

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THE WORLD CUP, my country's World Cup, begins on Wednesday and I will be happy, determined to enjoy it. First, though, I will be a little sad. I know how Paul Gascoigne feels. Like him, I am hurt not to be playing in the greatest sporting spectacle of them all.

Some people say that I am the same type of player, someone who can do unusual things with the ball, and I am flattered. Gascoigne has been a fantastic player. But I believe that when you are in the national squad, you live and work the same way as all the others in preparation.

Just because a player has a big talent, it does not mean he is special. A team needs all types of talent. I have always believed that when I play for a team, I am inside it mentally and physically. A player of great skill always enjoys more respect from his team-mates if he does not expect special treatment in training.

It is a big disappointment for me not to be playing because I think I would be fantastic. The pitches will be perfect, there will be nice weather, I am fit and I think I played a good season for Tottenham. I feel at my peak. But I will get over it; I have to live and I don't want the people around me to feel bad.

I think I could have helped the French team, on the left side, inside, up front or wherever. There are a lot of skills in the squad, though, and I wish them well. As I wish my country well in staging the tournament.

So far we have endured many troubles, with ticketing and controversy about the funding of the Stade de France and how we will pay off the 270 billion francs that it cost. We also have the threat of strikes, but then that is part of everyday life in France. I want to be confident about the World Cup, I want it to be a good reflection on my country, as it was on the United States four years ago when the stadiums were full and the organisation perfect. We may not have quite the same passion for football as England, Italy or Spain but we do have more than America. It may be true what Michel Platini said once, that France has spectators rather than fans, but I am sure the French will turn out in force to make it a colourful event.

I hope so because we have so much unemployment in France, at least five million, and I want the people to have a great show for all the money that is being spent. Perhaps it is not a good time to be organising such an event - and I'm not sure the country realised just how big an event it was - but then with France, it may never be the right time. De Gaulle, they tell me, once declared that it was almost impossible to govern a country that had 246 different kinds of cheese and it is true that in French politics there are so many shades of opinion. Some pull this way, some pull that way and at the end we stay in the same place without going forward. This time we must pull together. We were picked by Fifa and now we have to take responsibility.

I want to be positive, not sceptical; to be proud of my country and my team. I think we have a good chance to go far in the tournament but the problem for France is that the feeling is only of disappointment in the past, in Spain in 1982 and in Mexico, 1986. And yes, in 1994, when we failed to qualify because of that last-minute defeat by Bulgaria that hurt me so much.

England, too, have a big chance to go far, if not to win the tournament. They have quality and are very strong and I am thinking of the whole 22, not just the starting 11. I think the spirit within the group will get stronger during the competition and if you put the quality together with the British fighting spirit, then I think you have a powerful combination.

I am sure we will see surprises in the early stages but always the big squads come through - Germany, Italy, Brazil and Argentina particularly - but this time I expect the Nigerians to make the semi-finals. They can be so entertaining. The Brazilians, of course, are the favourites because they know the pressures of the competition and how to win; they know it is achievable while other nations know only how difficult it is.

Tactically the Brazilians now are very strong, ever since so many of their players began playing in Spain and Italy. They have lost some of their fantasy, that is for sure, but we should still see some entertainment from them. Ronaldo and Denilson may not be Pele and Maradona but they have the capacity to lift us.

Ah Maradona. I remember that goal against England from the half-way line. Past one player, past two, then the goalkeeper... I was cheering him on not because I wanted Argentina to win but because I wanted football to win. And they said Maradona could not defend. Oh come on. Just let him go forward.

I hope the coaches in this tournament let players with the same instincts as Maradona do the same, for the sake of the game. For me football is a group of players working to keep the ball and the result, and another group further forward trying to do the unexpected. The two must respect each other's attributes.

I hope to be a happy guy watching the games. I am waiting for a match, a team, a moment like Maradona's, that will lift our game to the highest levels. I want to see my country doing well, on and off the pitch. More than this, though, I want to see some magic.

David Ginola was talking to Ian Ridley