French see hope of Pires recovery

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The Independent Football

Robert Pires may take part in France's defence of the World Cup after all. Twenty-four hours after the Arsenal midfielder was ruled out because of cruciate-ligament damage sustained against Newcastle last Saturday, the French team's medical officer gave him "a 15 per cent chance" of playing in the Far East.

Dr Jean-Marcel Ferret said: "If the ligament remains stable, Robert will be able to play football soon. There is a 10 to 15 per cent chance that he will be able to play in the World Cup." Roger Lemerre, the France coach, said Pires would see another surgeon in Marseille today, although there would be no "hasty decisions" about whether to operate.

Lemerre revealed that an examination of Pires' injured knee in the French capital on Monday had proved "less negative" than the original prognosis in Strasbourg the previous day. "There is always hope, but if we operate now, he'll never be back in time," he said. "We want to keep our hopes alive, even if they are small."

Dismissing suggestions that France's chances in Japan and Korea would be seriously diminished by Pires' absence, Lemerre added: "Just because one player may be out, it doesn't mean we have to change everything. Robert is a key player but there have been times when he hasn't played and we still managed to achieve good results."

Meanwhile, Cameroon will be without two of their English-based players as they face Argentina in Geneva tonight. Sunderland's Patrick Mboma suffered a minor knock in Saturday's game against Southampton, while Lauren was injured during Arsenal's defeat to Juventus last Wednesday.

For Argentina, the Internazionale defender Nelson Vivas has been ruled out for the rest of the season, while the Valencia centre-back Roberto Ayala and Lazio's unsettled striker Hernan Crespo will not be fit until the end of April.

Gabriel Batistuta has been omitted as he battles to regain form and fitness following a knee injury. The Milan veteran Jose Antonio Chamot is expected to fill Ayala's defensive berth. The regular wing-backs Juan Pablo Sorin and Javier Zanetti should start, with Parma's midfield dynamo Matias Almeyda in the anchor position, allowing Manchester United's playmaker Juan Sebastian Veron the freedom to roam.

Barcelona's Javier Saviola is vying for the main striker role with Lazio's Claudio Lopez, and Rangers' Claudio Cannigia and Valencia's Kily Gonzalez should begin in a supporting role.

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