Zidane helps rebuild reputations

Former World Cup winner drafted in to inspire shamed French as Euro 2012 qualifiers kick off.

New coach Blanc, right, watches former teammate Zidane after the legendary Bleu was invited to training [AFP]

Zinedine Zidane was drafted in for inspiration as France aimed to get their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign off to a flyer following a shameful World Cup exit.

Italy also have reputations to rebuild on Friday after relinquishing their trophy in South Africa by finishing bottom of their group below Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia.

Both European heavyweights get up from the canvas with new coaches when they begin qualifying for the 2012 European Championships against Belarus and Estonia respectively.

Russia, Belgium, Greece, Turkey and Israel are also under new management as they seek to make the finals in Poland and Ukraine, with Friday’s games followed by a full fixture list on Tuesday.

Of all the countries in action on Friday France are most in need of a new start in Paris.

The chaos of the threatened strike and subsequent suspension of players has masked a poor on-pitch display in South Africa where after a draw with Uruguay, the 2006 runners-up were beaten by Mexico and the host nation.

That came just 10 years after they added the European Championships title to the World Cup they had won in Paris two years earlier.

Italy’s fall was even more spectacular, finishing Group F in South Africa with just two points to meekly hand over the trophy they won against France in Berlin in 2006.

Embarrassed and angry

French fans, embarrassed and angry after what they witnessed in June, will hope that the arrival of Laurent Blanc in place of Raymond Domenech will help.

“The France team is not as essential to the players as it used to be and that has to change”

Laurent Blanc, France head coach

Blanc has selected nine of the World Cup squad along with 10 of the players from last month’s 2-1 friendly defeat by Norway – a game for which he ignored all the World Cup men.

Franck Ribery, Nicolas Anelka and Patrice Evra are still suspended for their part in the South African revolution while Samir Nasri, Djibril Cisse and Andre-Pierre Gignac and Lassana Diarra are injured.

Uncapped Kevin Gameiro, Cedric Carrasso, Mamadou Sakho and Benoit Tremoulinas are included in the squad who follow up Friday’s opener with a tough trip to Bosnia on Tuesday.

“To have a young team is a good thing but it’s not enough to be competitive at the highest level,” said Blanc.

The best French player of his generation, Zidane stole the show at a France’s Clairefontaine training camp on Wednesday although teaching the values behind the blue shirt is slightly out of keeping with his last appearance in one.

Zidane was sent off for a powerful headbutt to Marco Materazzi’s chest before Les Bleus lost the World Cup final to Italy on penalties.

“To be able to exchange with players of another generation can only help,” said Blanc.

“They can explain that despite having had an extraordinary career at club level, the thing that changed their lives was to play for France.

“The France team is not as essential to the players as it used to be and that has to change, otherwise there will always be problems.”

Italy embark under a new manager with Cesare Prandelli in place of Marcello Lippi.

Estonia ‘a proven side’

“It won’t be a walk in the park against Estonia, they are a proven side. We have to be careful,” he said of a team who needed two goals in stoppage time to beat Faroe Islands 2-1 in the opening game of Euro qualifying last month.

Spain, who lifted the Henri Delaunay Cup in Vienna two years ago, are seeking to become the first team to retain the trophy and should start their campaign with a win in Liechtenstein while Netherlands, beaten in a bruising World Cup final by Spain seven weeks ago, also have an easy-looking opener in San Marino.

Germany, runners-up two years ago and buoyed by their World Cup exploits, have a tougher-looking start away to Belgium.

The Belgians are playing under George Leekens for the second time after he replaced Dick Advocaat, whose Russia side have a soft start in Andorra.

Fabio Capello is another coach whose reputation took a hit in South Africa and the Italian begins the rebuilding job at Wembley as England take on Bulgaria before a trip to Switzerland.

Capello’s options have been limited by a spate of injuries but he will be buoyed by the early season form of Arsenal forward Theo Walcott, who was the most surprising of his World Cup omissions.

Greece, surprise European champions in 2004 but who lost all three tournament games four years later, really are embarking on a new era after Fernando Santos replaced Otto Rehhagel after nine years in charge.

His team, who went out in the group stages of the World Cup, start at home to Georgia.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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