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WORLD CUP 2014

WORLD CUP

Confident France aim to make the Swiss roll

Les Bleus face their first stern test at the World Cup when they take on Switzerland in Salvador on Friday. The upbeat mood of the nation is a far cry from this day four years ago, when at the last World Cup, the French national team went on strike.

Confident France aim to make the Swiss roll
No sign of a strike among the French team this time round. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

France can almost guarantee qualification from their World Cup group on Friday if they manage a victory over Switzerland in Salvador.

Les Bleus are in form after beating Honduras 3-0 in their opening match but they face a much stiffer challenge against a Swiss team who are eager to cast themselves as underdogs.

Switzerland have tried to pile the pressure on France by claiming the underdog tag for the Alpine neighbours' World Cup Group E clash.

Both teams won their openers, with France topping the table after a convincing 3-0 win over Honduras, while the Swiss secured a last-gasp victory over Ecuador.

Super-sub Haris Seferovic netted in the last minute of injury time to claim a 2-1 come-back victory after the Swiss had fallen behind to Enner Valencia's first-half header.

Sixth-placed Switzerland are 11 places higher than the French according to FIFA's rankings, but insist those standings mean nothing.

"Favourites? You like that word in France, eh?," Swiss central defender Steve von Bergen told AFP.

Should expats in France support Les Bleus at the World Cup

"It is France who are the favourites."

Nevertheless, both sides are eager for a win at Salvador's Arena Fonte Nova, which would give them control of the group.

"We're in a special position with France being our neighbours and it's a derby, so to speak, but if we are to have a chance, we really have to go beyond our limits," said Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.

"They are a team who have put in great performances and were impressive in their play-off win against Ukraine.

"They put in an explosive performance and played with confidence.

"They are very flexible and can switch very quickly, they work like a machine.

"We'll have to be aggressive on attack, counter-attack quickly and then we'll have a chance."

Friday's match falls on the fourth anniversary of the French squad's infamous strike during their South Africa 2010 campaign when the team refused to train in support of Nicolas Anelka after a row with then-coach Raymond Domenech.

France captain Hugo Lloris says the anniversary will not be a factor as they chase the win which would leave them on the verge of the knock-out phase.

"We don't have what happened in 2010 in mind, we're really focused on this tournament. What happened in 2010 belongs in the past," said Lloris.

"We're here to live an adventure for as long as possible with the best results possible."

France coach Didier Deschamps has plenty of options up front with Arsenal's Olivier Giroud, who spent most of the Honduras game on the bench as 22-year-old Antoine Griezmann shone, eager to start.

Midfielder Yohan Cabaye will not feature after he came off in the Honduras match with a hamstring injury.

Unique experience

France only squeezed into the World Cup finals by narrowly defeating Ukraine in a play-off.

But they have scored 21 goals in their last six games starting with the stunning 3-0 win over Ukraine in Paris last November, which confirmed their Brazil 2014 berth.

"The match against Ukraine allowed us to live a unique experience and regain our confidence, but we have to maintain that with victories," added Lloris.

"We are strong and resilient, but you have to maintain the balance in the team by winning.

"One bad performance can jeopardise everything. You have to keep winning, regardless of who we play."

Deschamps is hoping for another high-scoring game in Salvador at the stadium where the most World Cup goals have been scored so far.

The Netherlands started the trend when they hammered holders Spain 5-1 last Friday, then Germany also went goal-crazy in their 4-0 romp against Portugal on Monday.

Now Deschamps, France's World Cup winning captain in 1998, is hoping the French and Swiss also catch a dose of goal fever — providing his team wins, of course.

"I hope so for the public, the fans who come want to see as many goals as possible," said Deschamps.

"You can have very good goalless draws, but it's always better if you score a few."

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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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