France coach Roger Lemerre, shocked by a 2-1 defeat by Belgium, hinted on Tuesday he might change the world champions' formation at the World Cup by fielding three defensive midfielders.
Since he took over from Aime Jacquet after the 1998 World Cup triumph, Lemerre has usually played only two players in front of the defence. But an injury to attacking midfielder Robert Pires and defensive concerns triggered by Saturday's friendly defeat by Belgium at the Stade de France could lead to changes.
"I am playing around with the idea of change," Lemerre told a press conference. "Playing with three defensive midfielders is an option, it's even an opportunity." Jacquet relied on a strong, crowded midfield and France conceded only two goals in seven matches in 1998.
Lemerre played Emmanuel Petit and former captain Didier Deschamps as defensive midfielders in the successful Euro 2000 campaign.
After Arsenal's Pires was forced to pull out of the World Cup because of a knee injury, Lemerre picked Parma's Alain Boghossian, an adept defensive midfielder.
"Obviously we will badly miss a player like Pires. And his absence has led me to change my mind about my (23-player) squad," Lemerre said.
"You can't replace someone like Robert, so you have to adapt yourselves." If Lemerre opted for his alternate line-up, Petit would play on the left, Boghossian on the right and Patrick Vieira in the centre during the World Cup, which starts on May 31.
"It won't change anything for me. It would be the first time I'd be in the central position but I don't mind," Vieira said.
Over the last four years, France have played only two matches in an official tournament with three defensive midfielders from the start and they have won both of them.
The first was against the Czech Republic in the first round of the European championship and France snatched a 2-1 victory to advance to the quarter-finals.
The second was against Portugal in the Euro 2000 semifinals. Both times Vieira played alongside Petit and Deschamps.