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Since 1st March, 1999
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A great joy to be captain again, says Zidane
- Despite losing berth at united, barthez remains french no.1

Paris: Stand-in captain Zinedine Zidane is hoping to lead France to a “Grand Slam” of eight wins in Euro 2004 qualifying Group One when the European champions host Israel at the Stade de France on Saturday. “It’s a great joy to be captain again,” said Zidane, who takes over the armband from Marcel Desailly.

“I watched a tape this morning of a game in which I was captain and it was a great memory,” he added. Zidane last captained his country in March against Malta and Israel. Already qualified for next year’s tournament in Portugal, the French hope to defend their title boosted by a perfect qualifying record in which they have so far won seven games, scoring 26 goals and conceding only two.

That contrasts sharply with their dismal World Cup campaign last year when they failed to score a goal. “A Grand Slam would be a kind of reward for us and we must please the crowd and the people watching the game on television,” Zidane said.

The Real Madrid playmaker said France had recovered the spirit, which inspired them to win the 1998 World Cup.

“Our performance since the last World Cup has been more than positive,” he said. “Our game of old has returned and there is a feeling we had gradually lost after the 1998 World Cup.”

Barthez responsibility

Meanwhile, Fabien Barthez is taking full responsibility for losing his first-team place at his English club Manchester United. “If I lost my place, it is my fault and it will never be anybody else’s fault,” Barthez said in an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe on Friday.

“It’s up to me to do what is required. It is not the coach who puts the ball at the forward’s feet, nor the journalists who slip up, it’s me,” he added. Barthez, arguably one of the world’s best goalkeepers, has not even made United’s substitutes’ bench this season, with American Tim Howard and Northern Irishman Roy Carroll preferred by the club’s manager Alex Ferguson.

But he said his relationship with Ferguson was “perfect”.

“The only thing is I don’t play. But I know everything can happen,” he said, adding that he had a good relationship with Howard, Carroll and goalkeeping coach Tony Coton. Despite an obvious lack of match play, Barthez remains France coach Jacques Santini’s first choice. He was outstanding in Ljubljana last month when France qualified for Euro 2004 with a 2-0 win over Slovenia.

“So every day I prepare myself to play the next weekend and everytime I believe I will,” Barthez said. “Otherwise, I would drop everything. And I don’t like to lose.” (Reuters)

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