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   June 6, 2002 | 1042 IST



France get the blues

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France and tournament need Zidane

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A torn left thigh muscle has suddenly become a national obsession as France sweats over the fitness of Zinedine Zidane on Thursday.

The world's costliest player is making a frustratingly slow recovery from a pre-World Cup injury which kept him out of the world champions' upset 1-0 loss to Senegal last Friday.

Nearly a week later, with France needing a win over Uruguay in their group A match in Pusan, South Korea, on Thursday to avoid a premature exit from the Cup, the position is no clearer.

"Zidane's condition is evolving well but we have not taken any decision yet," said coach Roger Lemerre as the French media pressed him for the latest news on the man they pray will resurrect their World Cup hopes.

"If Zidane says that he is ready to play, I'm going to let him play. It's up to him."

Since the start of the year, the French have not won without Zidane on the pitch. Their last four games include only one victory, a hard-fought warm-up win over South Korea.


"We have two matches to play and we must win both of them," Lemerre said. "But it's for sure that France don't perform at the same level when Zidane is absent."

It is not only France who are missing Zidane. The first six days of the tournament have been blessed with some wonderful matches and some fine goals.

But it would not be complete without the man whose winning goal for Real Madrid in the European Cup final, a left-foot volley of such perfection that time seemed to stand still, was the work of a footballing genius.

Uruguay, a small country with a large impact on the World Cup, lost 2-1 to Denmark in their opening match and will again be without midfielder Fabian O'Neill who has not recovered from an Achilles tendon injury.

The Uruguayans won the first World Cup at home in 1930. More famously they defeated Brazil at the Maracana stadium in 1950, a result which still haunts the Brazilians.

They have not appeared at a World Cup for 12 years and if they are not fly home early they will need a towering performance from playmaker Alvaro Recoba, who has plied his trade with such success at Inter Milan.

Recoba has been struggling with thigh and knee problems which forced him to leave the field 10 minutes from the end against Denmark while striker Sebastian Abreu has a thigh strain. Both are expected to play.


Senegal, who meet Denmark in Taegu, South Korea, showed against France the spirit and imagination which give the African teams their particular appeal. More importantly, they demonstrated the professional discipline needed for their players to survive in the French leagues.

"We have a side made of warriors and we have proved it," said coach Bruno Metsu. "We have two more games and we have the opportunity to go through to the second round."

Senegal will take the field without their captain Aliou Cisse who has failed to recover from a calf muscle injury sustained in training on Monday.

Denmark received a boost when midfielder Stig Tofting declared himself fit. Tofting had feared he had broken a bone during the 2-1 win over Uruguay but X-rays revealed only bruising. Tofting, a vital part of the Denmark team, said he would wear silicone in his left boot to protect his foot.

The day's third match features another African side in the continental and Olympic champions Cameroon who take on Saudi Arabia in group E in Saitama, Japan.

Cameroon, whose arrival in Japan was delayed by a dispute over money and flight delays, drew 1-1 with Ireland while Saudi Arabia were humiliated 8-0 by Germany. The group is still wide open after Ireland snatched a late 1-1 draw with Germany on Wednesday.

"We are much better, much fitter now than we were against Ireland," said coach Winfried Schaefer. "We have a journey of 40 hours to get to Asia but we have recovered. We have more power than in the first match. I can see it in our training sessions."

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