Football: World Cup - Paraguay remain a mystery to French

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THE FRANCE captain, Didier Deschamps, intends to lean on his friends in the Italy squad for inside information on the World Cup hosts' second-round opponents Paraguay.

The French, who play Paraguay on Sunday, know little if anything about the surprise South American qualifiers for the knockout stages of France 98.

The Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit proved the point by congratulating the South Americans on their first-ever qualification for the last 16, even though they reached that stage in Mexico in 1986, and then confused the Paraguay goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert with Colombia's former No 1 Rene Higuita.

But Deschamps, rested for France's 2-1 win over Denmark in Wednesday's final Group C match, stressed that it is vital the hosts do not under- estimate their opponents.

"I am going to call my Juventus team-mates in the Italy squad, who were in the team that beat them [Paraguay] 3-0 in April, and ask them for information on their strengths and weaknesses," the 29-year-old said.

However, Deschamps may not find his calls being answered, because provided Italy beat Norway tomorrow they will face the winners of the France-Paraguay match - and there is no doubt which side they would prefer to face.

"We breathed a sigh of relief when we heard that Paraguay had beaten Nigeria to qualify second in the group instead of Spain, but Italy will be feeling the same way as well, hoping that we slip up against them," Deschamps said.

France have not met Paraguay since Just Fontaine's four goals helped them to a 7-3 win in the 1958 World Cup, and there is a mood of optimism in the hosts' camp: "Paraguay will be a lot easier than Spain - that's for sure," AS Roma defender Vincent Candela said.

Auxerre wing Bernard Diomede took a more humble line in his assessment: "They're in the second round because they deserve to be," he said.