| Brazilian midfielder Ricardinho (left) at a practice session with Maurinho in Paris Monday. Brazil face Cameroon Thursday. (Reuters)
Lyon: France will begin the defence of their Confederations Cup title against Colombia on Wednesday determined not to repeat the mistakes of the last World Cup.
France’s failure to negotiate their opening match of the tournament in South Korea and Japan, losing 0-1 to the unfancied Senegal, heralded the start of a debacle which ended with a shock group-stage exit for the holders.
Wednesday’s Group A game of the eight-nation tournament at the Stade Gerland should be a comfortable victory for the host nation, supported by the fans who carried them to World Cup success five years ago.
Colombia, the Copa America winners in 2001, have kept a clean sheet in their last three matches, thanks to a defence marshalled by Ivan Cordoba and Mario Yepes.
But a France attack led by Thierry Henry and backed by Arsenal team mates Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord will be a very different proposition for the South Americans.
Of particular interest to France coach Jacques Santini will be the performance of a re-shuffled midfield, given the absences of Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira, Claude Makelele and Emmanuel Petit due to either club commitments or injury.
Pires, an attacking left winger at club level, could be given a defensive role in central midfield — a position he has occupied before for France — alongside Benoit Pedretti.
At the back, Chelsea teammates Marcel Desailly and William Gallas will form the central pairing, flanked by Bixente Lizarazu and Lilian Thuram.
Yet France, who will also meet Japan and New Zealand in the group stage, are aware of the need to work hard for a victory on Wednesday.
“We know the kind of game the South Americans play and it’s not one we’ve always found easy to cope with,” Henry said.
France needed a golden goal to see off Paraguay at the 1998 World Cup and could only draw 0-0 with Uruguay four years later — having lost a friendly to Chile in between.
However, France are determined to re-establish themselves on the world stage, as they prepare for another, more important, defence of a trophy — their European crown.
“We have to be clear about our target in this competition,” Pires told L’Equipe on Tuesday. “We are here to prepare in the best way possible for Euro 2004. And the best way to prepare is to win it.”
Japan take on NZ
Japan take on New Zealand in their opening match Wednesday in Paris, keen to erase the memories of the last match they played in France.
The Japanese suffered a 0-5 defeat at the hands of France in a friendly in March 2001 at the Stade de France.
They were also knocked out of the 1998 World Cup finals, hosted by France, after losing all three matches and scoring only one goal.
“If we get a good result, it will help us going into the other two games. We may be the underdogs against France but I believe we are better than New Zealand and Colombia,” Japan coach Zico said.
Japan were runners-up to France in the 2001 Confederations Cup but the Asian champions arrived for this year’s tournament on the back of three disappointing results — a 0-1 home defeat by South Korea and then a goalless draw against Paraguay and a 1-4 defeat to Argentina in the Kirin Cup.
“This will be a good opportunity to show the world what we can do,” said Zico, who took over as Japan coach from Frenchman Philippe Troussier after last year’s World Cup.
“Our players might be a little nervous or excited as it’s the first match but I want them to control the mental aspects of the game as well.”
Zico also has something to prove. He was assistant coach to Mario Zagallos when Brazil were beaten 0-3 by France in the 1998 World Cup final.
New Zealand played in the 1999 Confederations Cup in Mexico, losing all three of their matches, but they are keen to atone for their disappointments.
“This time around we will be out for results,” said defender Ryan Nelsen, who was a member of the 1999 squad. “Last time I think the players might have been a bit daunted, looking for respect. “But now with more of our guys playing overseas we have more experience and we will be ready to go.”