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France fear Portugal tie in World Cup play-offs

England, Germany, Spain and Italy can relax and think about training on Copacabana beach next summer but France must wait before booking their tickets to Brazil 2014. After beating Finland Les Bleus will enter a two legged play-off where they hope to avoid heavyweights Portugal.

France fear Portugal tie in World Cup play-offs
France players celebrate after scoring against Finland on Tuesday, but a 3-0 win was only enough to see them into the play-offs. Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

France coach Didier Deschamps admitted Portugal were the team to avoid in the European zone World Cup qualifying play-offs ahead of Monday's draw.

France were already assured of their place even before Tuesday's 3-0 final Group I victory over Finland at the Stade de France.

They still retained a faint hope of snatching top spot but that would have needed Spain to lose at home to Georgia, something that never looked likely.

Due to their FIFA ranking, France will not even be seeded in the draw, meaning Portugal, Greece, Croatia and Ukraine are their potential opponents.

Asked if there was anyone he'd like to avoid, Deschamps said: "It's legitimate to say Portugal because they have Cristiano Ronaldo, who's a great player and a big influence.

"But playing Greece, Croatia or Ukraine, they're more collective but not easier or simpler to play.

"Of course, I know some better than others but I haven't started analysing our future opponents."

Deschamps couldn't help but grumble about the seeding system which has denied his team the potentially easier draws against Iceland, Romania or Sweden.

France were in the only five-team group in qualifying, meaning they had two fewer games than the other second placed finishers in which to gain ranking points that could have made them seeded.

"We missed out on being seeded by one point to Ukraine, we've been a bit penalised but we'll take the opponent we draw," said the former Marseille, Monaco and Juventus coach.

"It's (FIFA) who decide, so they'll decide. We've expressed our point of view that it's a bit unfair being in a group of five and having two matches less. We don't get the points that we need for the FIFA ranking."

Looking at the positives from their victory over Finland, Deschamps said the team had left off from their previous match with Australia, a 6-0 friendly thrashing on Friday, and the second half of their qualifier with Belarus last month that saw them score four goals to turn a 1-0 half-time deficit into a 4-2 win.

"That's what we looked for in scoring three goals, even if we could've scored more as we hit the bar and post," he said.

"The score could have been more severe, even though in the first half they got behind us twice and they had a good chance at the start of the second.

"Although when you attack it leaves space for opponents, we mostly carried on from where we left off on Friday in terms of our play, our mobility, speed; we did many good things, created good situations, we had a good collective."

QUALIFIERS: The list of qualifiers for 2014 World Cup European Zone two-legged play-offs, to be played on November 15 and 19, after final round of qualifying group matches on Tuesday (four seeds to be decided by latest FIFA rankings released on Thursday): Portugal, Croatia, Greece, Ukraine, Sweden, Romania, Iceland, France.

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FOOTBALL

France plans to keep growing women’s game after World Cup disappointment

France faces the challenge of continuing to develop women's football after the bitter disappointment of elimination from the World Cup by the United States.

France plans to keep growing women's game after World Cup disappointment
France players after the defeat against USA. Photo: AFP

“Back to Earth” was how sports daily L'Equipe put it after the host nation lost 2-1 to the holders in a quarter-final played out before a feverish crowd in Paris.

L'Equipe talked of “the disappointment of a shattered adventure” because coach Corinne Diacre's team had dreamt of emulating the men, World Cup winners in Russia last year and also winners as hosts in 1998.

The team had been desperate to make it to Lyon, where the semi-finals and final will be played and where seven of those who featured for France on Friday play their club football for Europe's top side.

Instead, France find themselves out of a fifth straight major tournament in the quarter-finals. To rub salt into the wounds, Friday's defeat had the knock-on effect of denying them a place at next year's Olympics.

Diacre had been set the objective of reaching the final, which always looked a daunting challenge once the draw raised the likelihood of an early meeting with the USA.

Amid the dejection on Friday, Diacre stated her wish to continue, and on Saturday French Football Federation (FFF) President Noel Le Graet confirmed she would stay.

“She will be in charge until the end of her contract, if not longer,” Le Graet told AFP.

That means until Euro 2021 in England at least, and the aim in France is to keep developing the women's game to give them a chance of one day going all the way.

The FFF hope the number of registered female players will reach 200,000 next year, an increase of almost 10 percent from present figures, but far from the two million registered male players.

They have also promised to invest 15 million euros into a post-World Cup “legacy” fund.

The interest in the women's game is there, as shown by television audiences during the World Cup, with 11.8 million watching the USA game on terrestrial TV.

However, translating that to an increased following in the women's domestic league will be a bigger challenge.

France games have drawn sell-out crowds at the World Cup, but in general attendances in domestic competition are modest at best, even if almost 26,000 saw powerhouses Lyon beat closest rivals Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year.

“We cannot go from so much enthusiasm now to league matches on poor pitches with only 120 fans,” said Le Graet. “We all need to make an effort and we will.”

Matches are televised, but like elsewhere income remains light years from rights deals in the men's game — a new sponsorship contract for the 12-club top flight with chemicals company Arkema is worth one million euros per season for three years.

Average salaries are reportedly around 3,500 euros per month, although stars like Amandine Henry and Wendie Renard are believed to earn almost 10 times that at Lyon, who have won the Champions League in the last four years. Again, those sums are dwarfed by the wages often on offer to the men.

“We need to keep putting money in, keep professionalising, because other countries are doing it and maybe that's why they are ahead of us,” warned Lyon and France forward Eugenie Le Sommer.

“We have a good league but unfortunately not every team is professional.

“There are countries who are ahead of us and we must catch up. Even Spain are putting lots of money in and we need to make sure we are not left behind.”

READ ALSO: France coach laments 'failure' as hosts knocked out of World Cup

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