The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Young French blood hope to make amends

Paris: If the Confederations Cup, which kicks off on Wednesday, follows the script, hosts France and world champions Brazil will meet at the Stade de France on June 29 in a repeat of the 1998 World Cup final.

European champions France know only too well, however, things are rarely that simple. As defending world champions they were eliminated in the first round of last year’s World Cup finals and they will not take anything for granted in a tournament which also includes continental champions Japan, New Zealand, the US, Colombia and Cameroon and Turkey standing for Europe.

Since their shock early exit from the World Cup in South Korea/Japan, French coach Jacques Santini has worked hard to rebuild morale and soothe the psychological trauma.

He has brought some young blood into a side many considered past its best after clinching three titles — World Cup, European championship and Confederations Cup — in a row from 1998 to 2001.

Santini has made it clear he wants to win the tournament, which many club coaches have accused of being a waste of time and a risk to players at the end of a tiring season.

With their place in Euro 2004 virtually guaranteed, the Confederations Cup gives Santini the perfect chance to test his squad before they defend their European crown in Portugal.

It will also be a chance for some of the fringe squad members to stake their claims in the absence of inspirational playmaker Zinedine Zidane and influential midfielder Claude Makelele — both excused to concentrate on Real Madrid’s battle for the Spanish title.

Arsenal midfielder Robert Pires, speaking from France’s base camp at Clairefontaine, stressed: “We’ve got a title to defend — the image of France is at stake.”

Pires, missing from the World Cup debacle with a knee injury, added: “This isn’t really a dress rehearsal for the European championship, but it will give us a chance to get to know each other well and cement as a group.”

Santini for his part reflected: “With Zizou missing it’ll give others the chance of a game — it’s up to them to seize the opportunity.

“This Cup is being held between two stages of qualification (for Euro 2004), but it’s an important objective for Les Bleus,” added the former Lyon coach.

France will also be without midfielders Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and striker David Trezeguet, all injured. Real Madrid’s Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos will both be absent for Brazil, with Ronaldo’s number nine shirt going to Parma’s Adriano, while Sao Paulo’s Ricardinho gets the chance to shine in place of AC Milan's Rivaldo.

Brazil will thus look to Paris St Germain playmaker Ronaldinho for inspiration. The sought-after star refuses to be distracted by all the transfer speculation. Ronaldinho said: “I’m not thinking about an eventual transfer, I’m here to help my team.”

“The 2001 Confederations Cup (in which Brazil finished only fourth) wasn’t a great memory.”

Parreira added: “We are world champions, everyone expects Brazil to win, but we’ve got a new team with seven new caps.” Parreira said he was looking forward to their first game against Cameroon on Thursday.

“The first match of a competition is always widely anticipated. It’s like giving birth. You never know whether the baby will be beautiful or not. The first game is the same, you don’t know if you’re going to give birth to a decent team or not.”

France and Brazil are the obvious favourites, but they will not underestimate Turkey, who finished third at the 2002 World Cup, or the United States, surprising quarter-finalists.

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