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   30 May, 2002 | 1225 IST



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France aim for winning start

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World champions France will start the defence of their crown deprived of inspirational playmaker Zinedine Zidane but are aiming at nothing less than victory in the opening match against Senegal in Seoul on Friday.

The French found out on Monday that their talisman will be out of the World Cup's first game, at least, but have refused to let his absence dampen their spirits.

"It won't be the first time France have to miss Zidane. We have played without him in the past," said coach Roger Lemerre. "It's nothing new, even if losing your key player is always annoying, particularly before such an important match."

Zidane will miss the first two matches "Even without Zidane we remain a very competitive side and we have achieved great things when he has not been playing," defender Bixente Lizarazu said.

During the 1998 World Cup campaign, France, en route to their triumph, were without Zidane for two matches due to suspension.

They beat Denmark in the first round and sneaked past Paraguay to face Italy in the quarter-final.

"We must not be overconcerned by this injury and we must not let it beat our spirits down," midfielder Youri Djorkaeff said. "We have enough top notch players to cope with the situation."

Zidane has pointed to the opening match as the most important of the whole championship.

"It's going to be a crucial game as it's going to set the pace for the rest of the competition. And we will have to do everything to win," the midfielder said after joining his team mates in the Japanese coastal city of Ibusuki last week.

In 1998 and again in the 2000 European championships, the French made perfect starts, winning their first matches 3-0 against South Africa and Denmark respectively.


But history shows that World Cup opening games are always a struggle rather than a platform for entertaining football.

Four years ago, champions Brazil had to battle against a solid Scotland team before snatching a 2-1 win in Paris.

In 1994, an ageing Germany escaped from a tough match against Bolivia as they began the defence of their world crown with a 1-0 victory at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Keen to learn from the past, holders France say they expect strong opposition from Senegal, even if the African side are playing their first ever match in the World Cup finals.

"All their players are involved in the French first division championship. They have the capability to implement a strategy on the pitch more than a lot of other African teams can," Djorkaeff said.

With Zidane absent, Djorkaeff should share the playmaking with Emmanuel Petit while striker Christophe Dugarry should be slotted in a defensive position on the wing.

"Youri has confirmed he is in a great shape physically and mentally," Lemerre has said. "Having him from the start is an option I can take."

Senegal coach Bruno Metsu can rely on all his players, even if doubts hang over midfielder Khalilou Fadiga, who has been placed under investigation on suspicion of stealing an 18-carat gold necklace in Taegu.

Metsu will probably select the same starting team that lost the African Nations Cup final against Cameroon in February.

Probable teams:

France: 16-Fabien Barthez; 15-Lilian Thuram, 8-Marcel Desailly (captain), 18-Frank Leboeuf, 3-Bixente Lizarazu; 4-Patrick Vieira, 17-Emmanuel Petit, 6-Youri Djorkaeff; 21-Christophe Dugarry, 20-David Trezeguet, 12-Thierry Henry

Senegal: 1-Tony Sylva; 2-Oumar Daf, 13-Lamine Diatta, 6-Aliou Cisse (captain), 17-Ferdinand Coly; 10-Khalilou Fadiga, 15-Salif Diao, 19-Pape Bouba Diop, 23-Makthar Ndiaye; 7-Henri Camara, 11-El Hadji Diouf.

Referee: Ali Mohamed Bujsaim (United Arab Emirates)

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