French campaign gets under way

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The Independent Online
France play Sweden at the Parc des Princes tonight in a friendly which their manager Aime Jacquet sees as the real beginning of the French campaign for the 1998 World Cup finals.

"We're into the World Cup right now," said Jacquet, as he warned his players that country not club should be their priority next season. "I handed players a little memo asking them to be very careful about the clubs they would be signing for next season." Jacquet addressed a gathering of 40 potential World Cup players near Paris over the Easter weekend.

The manager is worried about players signing lucrative deals with big- name clubs but then not being able to secure a first-team place. But Jacquet also had more immediate problems ahead of this last warm-up match before June's Tournoi de France which involves Brazil, Italy and England.

Didier Deschamps, the French captain, is almost certain to miss the match with dental problems and the Paris St-Germain striker Patrice Loko is battling to overcome a knee injury. "I hope to be able to field a rejuvenated team and try out different combinations for the last time," Jacquet said.

The manager had hoped to be able to pair the playmaker Youri Djorkaeff with Auxerre's Lilian Laslandes but the latter had to pull out with an ankle injury.

Jacquet also faces a dilemma in where to best utilise Djorkaeff. Whereas he acts as playmaker for Internazionale, he played up front for his country at a time when a goalscorer was badly needed. His partnership with the Juventus midfielder Zinedine Zidane was disappointing during Euro 96 but Jacquet kept the two together despite the criticism. "Their pairing is not a problem. They just need to be used the right way," the coach said.

He has alternatives in the squad with Milan's Christophe Dugarry, Bordeaux's Ibrahim Ba, and Karlsruhe's Marc Keller. With Deschamps out, Martin Djetou and Claude Makelele will hope to obtain a second cap. Jacquet also decided to do without the Paris St-Germain goalkeeper Bernard Lama and to field Monaco's Fabien Barthez.

For Sweden, who have lost their last two World Cup qualifiers to Austria and Scotland, the tie will be an important warm-up for their home return with the Scots on 30 April. But they will be missing several first-choice players, including the captain Jonas Thern, who injured his nose in a league match 10 days ago.