Style more important: France coach

France coach Raymond Domenech believes playing with style is more important than winning matches at the World Cup.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:39 IST
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France coach Raymond Domenech believes playing with style is more important than winning matches at the World Cup. That attitude does little to inspire public confidence after France flopped so dismally four years ago. Following its exit from the 2004 European Championship quarterfinals, France barely scraped through qualifying for the World Cup, earning its place in the last match after Zinedine Zidane answered Domenech's call and came back for the last four games. Underdogs Unlike 2002, when France was favored to defend its title, the aging Zidane will lead a team of firm underdogs next month. In 1998, the team was not considered among the favorites, despite home advantage, and went on to win the title. But it may take an even bigger effort to win in Germany, where the team plays in Group G against Switzerland, South Korea and Togo. Zidane and Lilian Thuram - French heroes in '98 - are at the end of their careers, and doubts persist whether Domenech has the total backing of the team as Aime Jacquet did eight years ago. Heavily criticized after several 0-0 draws, he retorted that scoring goals was 'not important' and said qualifying was more important than showing flair. "What I dream about is that at the end of each match, the fans leave the stadium with a smile," Domenech said. "Not necessarily because we're going to win, but because they have felt something. Since Domenech took charge in July 2004, France has lost only one of 18 matches - 2-1 against visiting Slovakia in March - but struggles to score goals. Certainties Zidane, Patrick Vieira, Claude Makelele and Theiry Henry are the certainties for the World Cup. Domenech is yet to choose between Lyon's Gregory Coupet and Marseille's Fabien Barthez as first-choice keeper. "France is lucky enough to have two world class goalkeepers," Domenech said. That debate is one of several unsettling problems within a squad that excludes players like Arsenal's Robert Pires and Johan Micoud of Werder Bremen - hinting at a Domenech black list. Chelsea defender William Gallas wants to play at center-half, but Domenech prefers him at left back - where Eric Abidal has been so impressive for French champion Lyon. Despite Jean-Alain Boumsong's poor season for Newcastle, he could play alongside Lilian Thuram at center-half, although Gallas appears the natural choice. France's defensive quartet - Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Laurent Blanc and Bixente Lizarazu - formed the backbone of the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 triumphs. Since then, France has struggled to find the same adhesion at the back. Domenech, like Jacques Santini before him, appears no closer to an answer. France boasts two strikers that would walk into most teams at the World Cup. Trezeguet and Henry have scored 46 league goals between them this season: Henry notching 24 for Arsenal, Trezeguet 22 with Juventus (up to May 1). But since November 2003, when Henry scored one and Trezeguet two in a stunning 3-0 win over Germany, the pair have rarely clicked - perhaps in part due to Trezeguet's injuries. In qualifying, France mustered only 14 goals in 10 games - 11 of those against the Faeroe Islands and Cyprus - with Liverpool's Djibril Cisse scoring four of them. Domenech hinted that Cisse could be axed in favor of Manchester United's Louis Saha. "Saha has shown the desire to overcome injury and has taken the place of Ruud Van Nistelrooy in the (Manchester United) team," Domenech said. France begins its World Cup challenge against Switzerland on June 13 against in Stuttgart. France drew 0-0 and 1-1 with Switzerland in World Cup qualifying, and beat the Swiss 3-1 at Euro 2004 on two goals from Henry. Following that, Group G games follow against South Korea on June 18 in Leipzig, and Togo on June 23 in Cologne. (AP)