Blanc recalls Saha but says Toulalan is 'not essential'

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The Independent Football

The new France coach, Laurent Blanc, has high hopes for Everton striker Louis Saha in next month's Euro 2012 qualifiers but was yesterday forced to defend his decision to omit Jérémy Toulalan from his 21-man squad.

The fall-out from the team's lamentable performance at the World Cup in South Africa led to new coach Blanc suspending all 23 members of the squad from his selection for the friendly defeat against Norway in Oslo this month.

Saha, who was selected in February by former France coach Raymond Domenech for the first time since November 2006 but later had to withdraw through injury, and Lorient forward Kevin Gameiro will get their chance against Belarus on 3 September and Bosnia-Herzegovina four days later.

"Louis Saha is a boy who I always liked," said Blanc. "But he has often had physical problems. If he can string together a season without injury he is the top.

"Kevin Gameiro is an interesting player . He will create chances to score and he offers interesting solutions. But the France team is another thing to Ligue 1 level."

Patrice Evra and Franck Ribéry are absent after receiving bans of five and three matches respectively from the French Football Federation's disciplinary committee after the World Cup.

There is no place either for Toulalan, who must serve a one-match ban imposed for his part in the South Africa debacle but is available for the second match against Bosnia-Herzegovina. His Lyons coach Claude Puel had decided to convert him from midfield to central defence and Blanc said: "For now, he is not essential. He is not the best at that position in France."

Blanc has only called on 21 players, opting to leave out numerous big names including Marseilles winger Hatem Ben Arfa, Barcelona full-back Eric Abidal and Tottenham's new signing William Gallas. Nine players on duty in South Africa were recalled by Blanc – goalkeepers Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda and Cédric Carrasso, Arsenal trio Gaël Clichy, Bacary Sagna and Abou Diaby, Chelsea midfielder Florent Malouda, Bordeaux's Alou Diarra and Marseille's Mathieu Valbuena.