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France defeat bodes ill for World Cup

Written by: Staff
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PARIS, March 2 (Reuters) France's 2-1 home defeat by Slovakia cast serious doubt on the quality of a team who stubbornly claim they can become world champions again.

According to FIFA's maths, Les Bleus are one of the top eight seeds for the World Cup in Germany. Their clumsy performance against the Slovaks yesterday, however, suggested otherwise.

France's first defeat since their elimination from the quarter-finals of the Euro 2004 came after a string of worrying performances.

They only booked their trip to Germany when playmaker Zinedine Zidane, midfielder Claude Makelele and defender Lilian Thuram agreed to return to the national squad in August.

Raymond Domenech's team qualified top of their group but only after Switzerland were held to a goalless draw in Ireland in their final qualifier.

France narrowly avoided defeat by Costa Rica in Martinique in November, fighting back to clinch a 3-2 success having been two goals down at the break.

Their final outing of 2005 was an unconvincing 0-0 draw with Germany.

Before the match against Slovakia, captain Zidane said: ''To become world champions again France have to play better than they have done since they lost their European crown.'' The Real Madrid number 10's call fell on deaf ears, though, and he himself had little influence on the game.

STRIKING MISSES Strikers Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet missed no less than five clear chances between them to find the net.

France only saved their pride through Olympique Lyon's Sylvain Wiltord who scored a penalty by the middle of the second half.

A defiant Domenech refused to be downcast despite the setback.

''This is the kind of game that helps you prepare for the future. I'm certain that this match was good for us,'' he said.

Henry struck a similar note, saying: ''This is only our first defeat for 17 matches and we can't say it's deserved. We must not start mulling things over.'' Domenech has now two more months to set up his 23-name list before handing it over to the FIFA on May 15.

The worry for France's coach, however, is that injured defender William Gallas apart, he had all his first choice players on the field yesterday.

REUTERS CS RN1717

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