Pires ready for England

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> France takes on England in the Euro Cup on Sunday and Robert Pires is all set for the match.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:07 IST
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Robert Pires has painful memories of the first time he played in England. "It was total warfare," he said. "My first 20 minutes against Sunderland, I thought: 'What am I doing here?" Pires could face a similar situation on Sunday, as defending champion France begins its Euro 2004 title bid against group B rival England, its fierce traditional rival. Tough run He is likely to win his 71st cap on the right of coach Jacques Santini's midfield quartet, which could also feature Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Claude Makelele. Nearly four years after making his Arsenal debut as a second-half substitute against Sunderland in August 2000, Pires shudders when he thinks of his early days in Arsenal's colors. "When I first started in England, I spent most of my time on the floor," Pires said recently. "It is a very tough league physically, although it remains an honest one. I learned to toughen up." Although now a mainstay in the Arsenal side, Pires says he took a long time to adjust to the rigours of the English game. "(Arsenal coach) Arsene Wenger told me: 'you stay on the bench just to look what happens,"' Pires continued. "I started to think, this championship is not for me. Too physical, too athletic, not my style. I took six or seven months to adapt." Spectacular and open Now much happier in the English Premier League, Pires calls it spectacular and "always very open." "Technically speaking, English football is not extraordinary. But fans take great pleasure in watching open game. There are no tactics, just attack-defence. As a result there are a lot more goals than in other championships." The proof lies in Pires' outstanding strike rate from midfield. In 159 starts for the North London-based club, he has notched 56 goals. For France, he is looking to improve on his current tally of 14. However, he does not anticipate a free-flowing game on Sunday, when he will face Gunners teammates Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell. "The English game is very open, but this will not be the case on Sunday, because in front will be France," he said. No favours Meanwhile, Pires admits he will have difficulty taking on England left-back Cole - although he's confident he'll get the better of him. "I know he (Cole) won't do me any favours right from the word go. He's difficult to dribble past, very rarely caught out. But I know which side to take him on." He anticipates England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson will prefer a cautious approach to negate the French attack, which includes Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Zidane. "The English are good defensively. Even if the absence of Rio Ferdinand will hurt them. In my opinion, they will play five defensive midfielders." Having missed the 2002 World Cup after suffering a knee injury, Pires is determined to make his mark on Euro 2004. His family - Pires has a Portuguese father, called Antonio - will be in their masses to watch Pires in action in Lisbon on Sunday. "I bought 40 places, they've all gone," he said. (AP)