France to focus on minds, Germans on knee as World Cup nears
Former captain Didier Deschamps advised France to focus on psychology on Friday as they prepared to begin the defence of their World Cup crown while ex-champions Germany worried about the state of an important defender's knee.
Deschamps, who led the French to the title on their home soil in 1998, said the champions were favourites to retain their crown but warned them not to take anything for granted at the finals in South Korea and Japan in May and June.
Germany, the 1954, 1974 and 1990 champions, learned that defender Christian Woerns needs knee surgery and is a doubtful starter for the tournament.
Exactly three weeks before France open the finals with a first-round group A game against Senegal in Seoul, Deschamps suggested the state of French minds will be as important as that of their muscles.
"On paper, they have the best side but they must keep in mind that they will be the side to beat. And it's always hard to prove you are the best," he told Reuters.
"You need gifted players -- you can't go anywhere without talent -- but a huge mental strength is required too."
He added: "Today's situation is quite different from the one in 1998. We were harshly criticised before the championships.
"Now, everything is smooth and easy. Everyone is banking on France to retain their title. That could be a pitfall, although they are clearly the favourites."
The French also face Uruguay and Denmark in group A.
Woerns faces a race against time to be fit for Germany's opening group E game against Saudi Arabia on June 1 in Sapporo.
Having struggled with a problem with his left knee for weeks, the Borussia Dortmund defender will undergo arthroscopy on Saturday, assistant Germany coach Michael Skibbe said.
"We hope that Christian will be able to resume training 10 to 14 days after the operation and we are confident he will come to the World Cup," Rudi Voeller's deputy added.
But, if the 30-year-old has to pull out, Werder Bremen defender Frank Baumann would take his place, Skibbe said.
Voeller, who named his squad on Monday, is already without two important players in talented Bayern Munich midfielder Mehmet Scholl and Bayer Leverkusen defender Jens Nowotny.
Germany also face Cameroon and Ireland in the group.
Co-hosts Japan, by contrast, learned that defender Ryuzo Morioka has recovered from long-term hamstring problems.
The 26-year-old played the full 90 minutes for Shimizu S-Pulse in their Nabisco Cup tie at Vissel Kobe on Thursday and suffered no ill effects from the hamstring injury that had threatened to rule him out of the World Cup.
"I felt a bit rusty and was a bit slow in my first one-on-one situation but, on the whole, it went better than I expected," Morioka said after a comfortable 2-0 win.
"It's just a question of finding my legs and getting used to the pace of the game again."
Japan coach Philippe Troussier, whose team play in group H with Belgium, Russia and Tunisia, names his final 23-man squad on May 17.
China coach Bora Milutinovic also relished the return of two key players as they prepare to make their World Cup debut in group C where they take on Brazil, Turkey and Costa Rica.
Striker Yang Chen linked up with the squad from Eintracht Frankfurt ahead of Saturday's friendly against Thailand.
Injured midfielder Yu Genwei, who was in Belgium for almost a month receiving treatment on knee ligaments, was also due back in China on Friday.
Rivals Turkey are confident they can finish in the top half of the group and reach the knockout stage in their first appearance at the finals for 48 years.
"It took us 48 years to get this chance and we want to make the most of it," coach Senol Gunes told reporters at the start of a training camp on Turkey's Mediterranean coast.
"The players will have to play the match of their lives. Brazil look like the group favourites. We particularly want to beat China and Costa Rica to qualify," he said.
A referee continued to dominate soccer talk in Brazil, the 1958, 1962, 1970 and 1994 winners.
Ex-international referee Jose Roberto Wright defended the country's suspended Brazilian World Cup referee Carlos Eugenio Simon, saying he had been the victim of a public lynching.
Wright, the referee who made England's Paul Gascoigne cry during the 1990 World Cup semifinal against Germany, criticised the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) which announced on Thursday that Simon had been suspended indefinitely.
Wright hit out at Edson Resende, the acting head of the CBF's refereeing commission, as a storm continued to rage over Simon's decision in Wednesday's Copa Brasil final first leg match between Corinthians and Brasiliense.
"Simon made mistakes in the game but he has proved over the years that he is one of the best in the current crop of referees," wrote Wright in the sports daily Lance.