Confident Spain out to send France home

26th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

HANOVER, June 26, 2006 (AFP) - Spain face off against France here Tuesday confident of victory and claiming the prize of a quarter-final date with either Brazil or Ghana.

HANOVER, June 26, 2006 (AFP) - Spain face off against France here Tuesday confident of victory and claiming the prize of a quarter-final date with either Brazil or Ghana.

So often the team that has flattered to deceive, Spain waltzed through the first round as Group H winners with impressive victories over Ukraine and Tunisia before coach Luis Aragones fielded a virtual 'B' side to scrape past Saudi Arabia.

It was an altogether different story for France, who started modestly with draws against Switzerland and South Korea before hitting some semblance of form with a 2-0 win over Togo to qualify through the back door as group runners-up.

Eric Abidal and Zinedine Zidane return from suspension but if Aragones' confident pre-match hype is realised then this will be Zidane's final curtain call before retirement.

French coach Raymond Domenech is mulling over whether to stick with his twin-striker combination of Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet, or revert to deploying Henry as a lone attacker as in the opening two games.

Domenech, whose father was born near Barcelona, was keeping quiet about the make-up of his side, which he won't be releasing until three quarters of an hour before kick-off.

"I want to wait until after our last training session this evening. Not all the players know yet whether they're going to play, I'll leave that till as long as possible," he told a press conference in Hamlin near here on Monday.

With Zidane back, the feeling is that he may well drop Trezeguet with Frank Ribery playing an attacking midfield role alongside 'Zizou' with Patrick Vieira and Claude Makele behind.

Spain will be most people's idea of the likely winner, but France have history on their side as this first ever World Cup finals meeting is a repeat of the 1984 European Championship final which Les Bleus, under the stewardship of Michel Platini, won.

Henry meanwhile would feel justified in having added motivation for the last 16 clash as he was the target of an unguarded comment from Aragones who last year used racist language about the Arsenal forward in an effort to spur on his Gunners teammate Jose Antonio Reyes.

Aragones, who has sidestepped the issue this month but at the time insisted "I am not a racist", is bullish about a positive outcome in Hanover.

"All respect to the French, but I am sure we will get past them to reach the quarter-finals," the outspoken 67-year-old stated.

"France are a very good team, there is no doubt about that — but I am convinced we will beat them.

"For that we have to do things well, to play our game well and not make mistakes."

He reckoned the laboured display against Saudi Arabia was a blip.

"I believe we will get back to our best, as we were against Ukraine and then in the second half against Tunisia. That's the kind of image we want to show."

Unlike Aragones his French counterpart was making no such bold assertions after the Togo win, France's first World Cup victory since their 3-0 triumph over Brazil in the 1998 final.

"I don't make us favourites or the outsider. We start the game 0-0, it's not comment or FIFA rankings that make the difference, it's what happens on the pitch," said Domenech.

"We know that if we aren't solid at the back against Spain we might as well prepare our ticket home.

"But we've also got to cause our rivals problems so you have to find a balance between defence and attack.

"Spain are a side who score a lot of goals, who play well and who have high quality players.

"But we know them well. We have to find their weak points and exploit them."

Vieira, who hit form with a vengeance when scoring the first goal and setting up the second in Cologne on Friday, had a warning for the Spaniards.

The Juventus midfielder commented: "I'm getting stronger just like the team. We're getting better and better in each match.

"I hope this result (against Togo) will prove a trigger and that it's going to free us because when we're liberated we're capable of beautiful things.

"We've got a great French team here."

Just how great we will find out on Tuesday.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

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