Football World Cup: France's striking problem

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The Independent Online
FRANCE AND Italy will have no secrets to share when they meet in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, Italy's captain, Paolo Maldini, said yesterday.

Half the French squad have played in Serie A. Seven players are currently with Italian clubs, while four others used to be. France's starting line- up for their second-round encounter against Paraguay on Sunday included Internazionale's Youri Djorkaeff, Parma's Lilian Thuram, Didier Deschamps of Juventus and Chelsea's Marcel Desailly.

The substitutes included the Roma defender Vincent Candela and the Sampdoria midfielder Alain Boghossian. The Juventus midfielder Zinedine Zidane will be back from suspension to face Italy at the Stade de France on Friday, while others have past experience of Italy to draw on.

France's golden-goal hero against Paraguay, Laurent Blanc, used to play at Napoli. Patrick Vieira and Christophe Dugarry are both former Milan players while Christian Karembeu joined Real Madrid from Sampdoria.

"It'll be a match without secrets," Maldini said at Italy's training camp yesterday. "We know their players well, they know us and neither side will have anything to hide.

"France looked very strong in their first two matches. I didn't see their match against Denmark and I thought they looked a little slower yesterday against Paraguay.

"But they're a very solid side with a strong defence. They'll also have Zidane back to face us and he's fundamental to the way they play."

Maldini said Italy had no fear of facing the French in front of 80,000 fans in Paris's showpiece stadium. "We know we'll be surrounded by French supporters but we don't mind," he said.

"Playing at home should be an advantage for them but it could also turn against them at difficult stages of the match.

"The fans don't score goals." he added. "We've played hundreds of matches in front of hostile crowds."

Italy were loudly whistled by Norwegian fans and locals during their uninspiring 1-0 win in the second round in Marseilles on Saturday. The fans seemed to be annoyed that Italy effectively closed down the match once they had taken an early lead.

Maldini picked out Monaco's Thierry Henry as France's most dangerous forward. "Once he gets some space, he's unstoppable," he said.

Meanwhile, in the French camp, the host nation still have plenty to ponder. France may have struggled to progress past unfashionable Paraguay - but their coach Aime Jacquet believes that winning a tense battle will have boosted the confidence among his weary players.

"We have lost some energy and we have also lost some men," said Jacquet, who had to substitute both Henry and the defensive midfielder Emmanuel Petit, both slightly injured in a match in which France needed a golden goal to win 1-0.

"But I believe it was the kind of test we needed to get ready for the challenges to come," Jacquet added yesterday, his mind already set on Friday's quarter-final.

"The players showed a formidable will. They wanted to win that match badly, gave everything they had and eventually earned a deserved victory. Winning that type of match is, in my opinion, a great leap forward."

While Petit only had a tight thigh muscle and should be fit for Friday's match, Henry strained his left ankle and is a doubtful starter.

"It's not a serious injury but we don't really know how bad it is," Jacquet said. "We will have to wait until tomorrow before we can say anything. Let's hope he will be all right."

Jacquet, usually careful to hide his emotions, was seen gesticulating joyfully after Blanc netted the goal that sent France through with six minutes remaining in extra time.

"I just exploded," he said, as if to apologise for a rare outburst. "I couldn't control myself. But I did feel sorry for the Paraguayans. They were devastated, as if they had been struck by lightning."

The lessons taught by a brave Paraguayan side will be useful for what should be a highly tactical match against Italy, Jacquet said.

"The players have learned something, especially the young ones like David [Trezeguet]," he said. "He always had two men on his back and had no space nor time to control the ball.

"It will be worse against Italy. Knowing David, he will analyse all that and it will have been a profitable experience. The same goes for the whole team. It was really hard, but I'm convinced we are stronger now."

Jacquet was not the only one to jump and scream after Blanc ended 114 minutes of agony. The playmaker Zinedine Zidane, who was suspended for two matches for treading on an opponent when France thrashed Saudi Arabia 4-0 in their second match in the tournament, watched the game from the bench.

"He was sitting next to me and he just went wild," Jacquet said. "I'd never seen him like that. Maybe it was because he realised that he would now be able to play again. That's good news. We need him."

Jacquet, who has been hurt by critics saying that France were so weak that they might not even get past the second round, was obviously relieved after his team's success against Paraguay.

"A defeat would have been a catastrophe, for Zidane, for all of us and for France," he said. "But we've won and we deserved to - so let's talk about the next match."