Makelele row mars France's Euro 2008 opener

1st September 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 1, 2006 (AFP) - France enter the post-Zinedine Zidane era here Saturday with their opening Euro 2008 qualifier against Georgia clouded by controversy over Claude Makelele's call-up.

PARIS, Sept 1, 2006 (AFP) - France enter the post-Zinedine Zidane era here Saturday with their opening Euro 2008 qualifier against Georgia clouded by controversy over Claude Makelele's call-up.

The Chelsea midfielder finds himself in Tbilisi against his wishes having intended to step down from the international scene after helping France to the World Cup final.

The Kinshasa-born star announced his retirement after the loss to Italy in Berlin but Raymond Domenech named him in his squad regardless stating: "He is a footballer, he is available for selection and if he doesn't come we can take appropriate action."

Domenech's stance has infuriated Makelele's club manager Jose Mourinho who accused the 57-year-old Frenchman him of treating the player like a "slave".

Makelele confirmed Thursday he was only in the squad for fear of falling foul of FIFA's rules governing players refusing to answer their country's call.

He told reporters: "As I said after the World Cup I'd retired. I'd spoken at length about it with the coach.

"Afterwards he wanted me to come back to the France team. I told him again I really wanted to stand down and not return. The fact that he named me in the squad changed the situation. I arranged with my club to honour the call-up because under the rules you have to be present."

As a result of Domenech's strong arm tactics the player will be earning his 51st cap.

Alongside Makelele in midfield will be Franck Ribéry, for many Bleus' fans the face of France post-Zidane.

The dynamic 23-year-old, who only made his international debut in May, proved a potent weapon in Germany and the Marseille midfielder is not blind to the hopes pinned on his young shoulders.

"Now that 'Zizou' has stopped people are expecting big things from me, I can feel that. It's up to me not to get worked up about it," he said.

"I'm more of a player for either the left or right wing but I've already filled Zidane's (playmaker) position."

With the retirement of French football's 'grand monsieur' Domenech has been freed to revert to a twin attack with Thierry Henry set to be joined by Manchester United's Louis Saha.

Saha's rival to play alongside Henry was David Trezeguet, but the Juventus striker, whose fluffed penalty at the Olympic stadium ended France's quest for a second world title, is unfit and skipped training on Thursday.

The only other significant change to the team that lost out on penalties to Italy in Berlin is the inclusion of keeper Gregory Coupet over veteran Fabien Barthez, who is still clubless.

Georgia, coached by the noted German disciplinarian Klaus Toppmuller, are missing two key defenders - AC Milan's Kakha Kaladze and Otar Khizaneishvili of SC Freiburg, but Blackburn Rovers centre-back Zurab Khizanishvili has returned to full fitness.

Georgia are aiming to pick themselves up after finishing second last in their 2006 World Cup qualifying group.

They next face Ukraine away on Wednesday with former European champions France meeting Italy in a re-run of the Berlin showdown in Paris.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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