France coach set to unveil starting line-up
PARIS, June 5: France coach Raymond Domenech has promised to unveil his preferred World Cup starting line-up in a final warm-up game against China with a question mark over whether gifted newcomer Franck Ribery will be in there.
''Pretty much so,'' Domenech said when asked whether the team who will start Wednesday's match in St Etienne would be the same one he would then pick for the former champions' opening Group G game against Switzerland on June 13 in Stuttgart.
''Nowadays there's not much point playing hide and seek with anybody,'' he added.
If Domenech keeps his word and does not to play games, it will be known on Wednesday whether Ribery will start for France in their World Cup opener.
Probably not is the most likely answer.
The gifted midfielder, who was brilliant in two short spells in warm-up wins against Mexico and Denmark, is regarded by the coach as the perfect joker to pull out when fresh legs and ideas are needed.
So exciting was Ribery in his first two short appearances for France that some are already suggesting the energetic 23-year-old dribbling artist should push a rusty Zinedine Zidane on to the substitutes' bench.
France defender Willy Sagnol scoffed at that idea. ''If you believe that you don't know anything about football,'' he said.
''Franck is a good player who might become a very good player but he's got nothing to do with Zizou. They don't play in the same role. In fact they can very well play together.'' Domenech has already said his number one goalkeeper would be Fabien Barthez ahead of Gregory Coupet, who hates the decision but has to live with it.
The coach's back four is pretty obvious with Willy Sagnol on the right, Eric Abidal on the left and Lilian Thuram and William Gallas paired in central defence.
In midfield, Patrick Vieira and Claude Makelele are sure to play in their usual defensive roles with the creativity of Florent Malouda and the skills and vision of Zidane completing an impressive quartet.
Up front, Domenech has hinted in France's last two games that his preference was for two strikers. One will be Thierry Henry with David Trezeguet and Louis Saha fighting for the second spot.
On paper, France, whose other opponents in the group phase will be South Korea and Togo, can justifiably feel optimistic.
The problem is they could as well four years ago and were sent packing after failing to win a match and score a goal in the group stage.
Vieira said the difference was that the atmosphere in the team was much better than before the 2002 campaign.
''We're starting a new adventure and we all believe it will be a great one,'' he said.