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· Legend
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A great article from the World Cup's official website:http://fifaworldcup.yahoo.com/en/020429/8/f3e.html.


Formidable France club together for World Cup defence PARIS, April 29 (AFP) - The daunting thought that France's World Cup rivals have to face as Korea-Japan 2002 looms is that the reigning champions are stronger now than ever.
World Cup history is littered with teams who have lifted the trophy and then spluttered out of the reckoning when it comes to the task of defending their crown.

Only once in the post-war era has a team successfully defended the World Cup - Brazil in 1958 and 1962 - but coach Roger Lemerre's France are being tipped to emulate the South Americans.

One look at France's squad and it is easy to understand why 'Les Bleus' kick-off the competition as favourites.

On home soil in 1998, the common view was that France's defensive solidity had provided the platform for victory, the cast-iron rearguard and midfield masking the lack of a consistent cutting edge in attack.

Fast-forward to 2002 and the picture has altered dramatically. While the defence and midfield remain largely unchanged, France's attack has now evolved into one of the most feared in the world.

Lemerre has the enviable task of having to decide whether to choose between Juventus striker David Trezeguet or Arsenal's Thierry Henry in attack, two players who would be guaranteed places in any other side at the tournament.

The French coach may even choose both Trezeguet and Henry in his first XI, with Henry operating in a wider role.

France also have an awesome array of talent in reserve, with Liverpool's Nicolas Anelka and Auxerre prodigy Djibril Cisse both vying for a place in the final 23.

Behind the forward line, France will be just as strong as ever.

The incomparable Zinedine Zidane will provide the magic from midfield, the Real Madrid star still very much at the peak of his powers.

Flanking the world's most expensive footballer in central midfield will be Arsenal's Patrick Vieira - an understudy at France '98 but now a regular fixture - and Chelsea's Emmanuel Petit.

If there is the slightest of ****** in France's armour it may be in the defence, where fullbacks Bixente Lizarazu and Lilian Thuram, along with centre-halves Franck Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly, have all hit thirty.

Apart from Leboeuf's replacement of the now retired Laurent Blanc, France's back four remains the same as the one which triumphed in 1998 and went on to lift the Euro 2000 crown.

Behind the defence is Fabien Barthez, the Manchester United goalkeeper now back to something like his best form after an erratic spell for the English giants earlier this season.

France's rivals should also bear in mind that the world champions are likely to take 15 veterans of their 1998 World Cup victory to this year's finals.

No team attempting to defend the title has had a bigger nucleus of World Cup winners in its squad before. In 1994 Germany had 11 survivors from their 1990 win; in 1998 Brazil had only five veterans from '94.

The fact that France have had the same group of players together for so long means that a formidably high level of instinctive understanding has arisen.

As Bayern Munich defender Lizarazu put it: "We only get togther as a squad once a month. But when we do it's like we've been together as a club, training every day.

"There is a great attitude amongst the players and a lot of understanding. You can see that in the way members of the squad anticipate passes and time their runs."

Trezeguet has echoed Lizarazu's thoughts.

"The strong part about France is the friendship between the players and the level of respect towards the management," he said earlier this year.

"Unless you have that sense of unity in the squad you will find it difficult to win a tournament like the World Cup.

"We are lucky because this group of players have been through so much together - we are a family," Trezeguet added.

ALLEZ LES BLEUS!:star::star:
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