France defy angry clubs

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The Independent Online

Roger Lemerre, the French national coach, yesterday defied English clubs by picking eight players from the Premiership to travel to next month's friendly in Australia.

Arsenal-led clubs, who signed a petition for the match to be called off to avoid a lengthy and tiring trip for their players, and Fifa, the world governing body, had initially urged France and Australia to pick only one international from each club side.

"I say 'niet' to those who want to take French internationals hostage," Lemerre said. "This petition goes against French interests and I will not let it go. France will play their eighth friendly match of the year as planned and they have a right to."

Lemerre picked Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord and Robert Pires from Arsenal, Emmanuel Petit and Marcel Desailly from Chelsea and Manchester United's Fabien Barthez and Mickael Silvestre for the match on 11 November in Melbourne.

One player who may not go to Australia, however, is Barthez, who has not travelled for Manchester United's Champions' League match in Lille tonight as he is booked in to see a specialist about an ear infection. The goalkeeper's doctor has warned Barthez that the infection may mean that there is a problem with him taking such a long flight.

Barthez could still play against Liverpool on Sunday, however, a spectacle that would undoubtedly raise the ire of Lemerre, who said yesterday: "It would be very sad to see medical certificates arrive. That would say to me these are players who do not want to play for their country."

The Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has some sympathy for Lemerre."I can understand his reasons and I think he will get a strong team, but an injury is an injury," said Ferguson.

Fifa had stepped back from its "one-player-one-club" recommendation at the weekend after France and Australia refused to accept it.

Yesterday Fifa's general secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen said clubs would be told they had to release players for the game and French officials had guaranteed "the players' travel to Australia will benefit from the best conditions possible".

But in a gesture to some of the most powerful sides in Europe, he said a Fifa committee would decide today the number of friendly games this year for which clubs would be expected to release players.

Lemerre, however was not mincing his words. "Calling up three or four players from a club for international games is both good for the player and for the club. I really don't understand the attitude of the clubs.

"When it comes to playing in more and more competitions in order to make money nobody ever complains, but when it's to play for your country it's never that easy. France is a breeding ground for players and there are people who take full advantage of it."

Soccer Australia said Lemerre's decision was a victory for world and international football over powerful clubs.

"This is the best contemporary football team to ever come to this country – it's a big win for the Australian soccer public," said the Soccer Australia acting chief executive Ian Holmes.

Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane and Claude Makelele and Juventus Turin's Lilian Thuram and David Trézeguet are also in the 20-strong squad.

"I didn't hesitate in making up my mind," Lemerre said. "Has anybody ever heard a national coach complaining about club tactics?

"Has anybody ever heard a national coach complaining about a training session or a match scheduled by a club eight months before a crucial event? No, so from my point of view the case is closed."

Australia face a two-legged World Cup qualifier against a South American team shortly after the friendly. The winner will qualify for next year's finals in South Korea and Japan.

Lemerre recalled Barcelona defender Philippe Christanval who earned his first cap in South Africa last year. He also called up Olympique Lyon's Eric Carriere and Gregory Coupet, who made an appearance in the Confederations Cup in June.

But he left out Bixente Lizarazu and Willy Sagnol of Bayern Munich, who play South American champions Boca Juniors in the Intercontinental Cup in Japan on 27 November.

FRANCE SQUAD (friendly v Australia, Melbourne, 11 November): Barthez (Man Utd), Rame (Bordeaux), Coupet (Lyon), Candela (Roma), Christanval (Barcelona), Karembeu (Olympiakos), Leboeuf (Marseille), Desailly (Chelsea), Silvestre (Man Utd), Thuram (Juventus), Carriere (Lyon), Makelele (Real Madrid), Petit (Chelsea), Pires (Arsenal), Vieira (Arsenal), Zidane (Real Madrid), Dugarry (Bordeaux), Henry (Arsenal), Trézeguet (Juventus), Wiltord (Arsenal).

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