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Spectre of 2002 haunts France before Italy game
Patrick Vignal | June 16, 2008 17:31 IST
Vieira, who sustained a thigh injury in training for a warm-up game, has not played since and faces a struggle to be fit for Tuesday's Group C decider against Italy [Images] in Zurich.
France, needing to beat the World champions to stand a chance of reaching the quarter-finals, have looked short of midfield inspiration in a dull 0-0 draw with Romania and a 4-1 thrashing by the Dutch, and badly need Vieira's skills.
It was all very similar six years ago at the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan [Images] and South Korea.
France, then the reigning World and European champions, made a dismal start and were left needing to beat Denmark by two goals or more in their final group game to reach the second round.
Playmaker Zinedine Zidane [Images] had suffered a thigh injury in a friendly with South Korea a few days before the start of the finals and missed the opening two games.
He came in for the last group match but was obviously not fully fit. France lost 2-0 and went home.
Is history about to repeat itself?
"We missed Pat a lot in our first two games," playmaker Franck Ribery [Images] told reporters. "He wants to play. Mentally, he's ready but the question is whether his thigh is okay."
Coach Raymond Domenech said he would not do what 2002 coach Roger Lemerre did with Zidane by fielding a below-par Vieira.
"He will only play if he's 100 percent fit," said Domenech, who knows he will face criticism for having kept Vieira in his squad if the France captain were to leave the tournament without having played.
Domenech had brought Mathieu Flamini as a potential late replacement if Vieira were ruled out before their first game.
However, France can turn to another scenario than their traumatic 2002 experience for inspiration and that is the 2006 World Cup, at which they recovered from a sluggish start to go all the way to the final.
"It's a possibility," goalkeeper Gregory Coupet told reporters when asked whether he thought that could happen again.
"Going through would make us proud and it would make us stronger. We would probably be able to step up a few gears."
Complete Coverage: Euro 2008