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   21 May, 2002 | 1335 IST


Zinedine Zidane
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France fret over delayed Zidane

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World champions France are fretting over the delayed arrival of inspirational playmaker Zinedine Zidane who is to join the squad on Wednesday after attending the birth of his third child.

Zidane is expected to arrive in the afternoon in the southern sea resort of Ibusuki, where France are based for the week as they prepare for the World Cup opening match against Senegal on May 31 in Seoul.

"We are very impatient to have our 23rd man with us," French coach Roger Lemerre told a press conference. "You can't overlook the absence of such a player like Zidane.

Zinedine Zidane "We are getting closer to the World Cup but we can't say we are exactly into it yet. We are going to really enter the event only once we have everybody here.

Striker Djibrill Cisse added: "We are very keen to have the whole squad together. We'll feel better tomorrow (Wednesday)."

Zidane, who sealed Real Madrid's victory over Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League final, didn't play in France's 2-1 shock defeat to Belgium at the Stade de France last week.

He was in his hometown of Marseille where his wife Veronique gave birth to their third son Theo on Saturday.

"Not having him with the squad has made things much more tricky," said Lemerre. "If you add that (striker) Thierry Henry was injured, I have been deprived of two crucial options in my strategy."

France conceded their second home defeat at the Stade de France and the first over the last three years on Saturday, stumbling to a solid and in-form Belgium.

Zidane will not play in a practice match, split into three 30-minute segments, against J-League side Urawa Reds on Wednesday at a stadium attached to the lavish palace hotel hosting the world champions.

Henry, though, who has been nursing a painful right knee, is almost certain to take part along with those who stayed on the bench against the Belgians.

"Thierry has worked a lot over the last few days," Lemerre said. "Depending on his shape I'll decide whether to keep him on the pitch for an hour.

"We can expect quite a good challenge from an excellent side," he added. "Those who have not played last week will be put in. They need to play."

France stay in Ibusuki until Saturday, when they move to Seoul to face co-hosts South Korea in their last warm-up match at Suwon on May 26.

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