France coach says depleted hosts are still favourites

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The Independent Football

France manager Laurent Blanc claimed yesterday England remain a far stronger side than his own, despite the hosts' loss of 12 players – and counting – through injury.

England go into tonight's friendly at Wembley ranked sixth, according to Fifa's official ratings, while France are 18th, following their disastrous World Cup campaign.

But England manger Fabio Capello has seen injury rule out a dozen players including Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Glen Johnson. Never the less, Blanc maintained that Les Bleus are still some way below the level he expects to see from England. "We are playing against a quality side who present us with our biggest test since I took over in August" he said at Wembley yesterday.

"England are higher than us in the Fifa rankings. They are one of the top European sides, which at the moment we can't say we are."

France come into the game on a run of three victories in the Euro 2012 qualifying group. Tottenham Hotspur defender Younès Kaboul is set to make his debut in place of the Roma centre-back Philippe Mexès, who has a calf injury.

Blanc claimed his team have improved defensively in recent games but he is looking for greater things from the team's creative players such as Arsenal's Samir Nasri and Chelsea's Florent Malouda.

"We can be reasonably satisfied with the way we have played since August," Blanc said. "As a group we have improved defensively, but in attack we can improve. We are not as effective as we might have been. But good teams are built on a tight defence and we are moving in the right direction on that point."

The French side came into the game involved in a row with the French Football Federation over bonuses from the World Cup, but an agreement was reached yesterday, in which more than £2m will be donated to charity.

FFF interim president Fernand Duchaussoy said: "The players confirm the commitment taken during the World Cup to forego their bonuses linked to the preparation matches as well as the finals. The players back the step taken by the FFF of allocating these bonuses to finance amateur football activities."

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