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   21 May, 2002 | 1605 IST


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France begin to feel pressure

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"Saturday's match is over and it belongs to the past now. I don't want to keep on about it," French coach Roger Lemerre said on Tuesday. "The result has left me a little unsure but it might help to put everyone back on the right track.

"As world champions, we have a duty to excel. From the first second of the opening match, we will have a duty to get the right results."

France's loss to the Belgians in their farewell to their home fans was a serious setback. It was only the second time Les Bleus had lost at the Stade de France, the stadium where they won their 1998 world title by taming Brazil 3-0.

Lemerre said he hoped the defeat would trigger a strong reaction from his players.

"When you lose you don't look at yourself the way you did before. Defeat produces doubt and it's now up to us to provide the right answers," Lemerre said.

"Against Belgium, it was not a matter of physical shape," midfielder Patrick Vieira said. "We lacked the will and we lacked concentration.

"It proves that everything is not sorted out yet as we are getting close to the start of the World Cup. But I'm not worried, we still have some time and we'll be ready on May 31," Vieira said.


France have a last warm-up friendly against co-hosts South Korea in Suwon on May 26, but Lemerre has put the tournament's opening match against Senegal at the top of his priorities.

Victory is the only result he is looking for.

"The opening match is a game which can't be compared to any other. History teaches us that it can be very tricky sometimes. So it would be great if we could impose ourselves."

By then Lemerre will have playmaker Zinedine Zidane and prolific striker Thierry Henry back in the squad.

As an expectant father, Zidane had been excused the Belgium friendly while Henry, who helped Arsenal clinch both the FA Cup and the English title, was left out because of a painful knee.

"The Belgians did play well. But with them (Zidane and Henry) unavailable I was deprived of two options in my strategy," Lemerre said. "I would have made more changes during the match but I couldn't."

Youri Djorkaeff said the players have talked a lot among themselves about last week's defeat which raised questions again about the French defence.

"We will have to prove that we are a stronger side than four years ago," Vieira said. "Some say we concede more goals, meaning the defence is weaker. But we also score more goals and that proves the ball is pushed through much faster."

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