| France will miss the services of Zidane
Paris: Europe’s football giants put their Euro 2004 destiny on the line over the next five days with hopes of reaching next summer’s finals in Portugal depending on the skills of medical staff as much as the tactical knowhow of their coaches.
Sven-Goran Eriksson’s plans for the match against Macedonia on Saturday have been rocked by doubts over the fitness of skipper David Beckham while holders France are without playmaker Zinedine Zidane for the home clash with Cyprus.
In Milan, Wales are sweating over livewire striker Craig Bellamy for the match with Italy, who are missing Francesco Totti, while the Republic of Ireland will have to wear down Russia in Dublin without the cutting edge of Robbie Keane.
Beckham injured his groin in Real Madrid’s 1-1 draw with Villarreal on Tuesday — the last thing Eriksson wanted to hear having already lost midfielders Steven Gerrard and Trevor Sinclair as well as centre-back Rio Ferdinand.
The England captain, though, expects to play on Saturday. “It’s the first time I train today so we will see… but it’s feeling good so hopefully it will go well,” Beckham said at a news conference at England’s team hotel on Friday.
“I think I only tweaked the muscle so hopefully it should be fine.”
Victory over Macedonia would put England in pole position in group 7 where they are currently two points behind leaders Turkey having played a game less.
England struggled to a 2-2 draw with the Macedonians on home soil last October, but striker Michael Owen, who has been on target in his last two England outings, is confident of a result ahead of the next game at home to Liechtenstein.
“The players we’ve lost are key players so that’s a blow but we still have enough quality in the squad,” Owen insisted.
In Paris, France can become the first team to reach the finals if they defeat Cyprus at the Stade de France — but they will have to do it without Zidane.
The Real Madrid midfielder is suffering from an injured thigh and will sit out the match where a victory, coupled with a Slovenian failure to beat Israel, will put France in the finals.
Although Zidane is expected to return for Wednesday’s away clash against Slovenia, French preparations haven’t been helped by a recurrence of the injury which ruled him out of the first two matches of the World Cup last year when they crashed out in the first round.
“It's nothing serious. It’s a little injury,” said Zidane.
France are five points clear at the top of group 1 and are the only side left with a perfect record. (AFP)