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France happy to be back home for Lithuania clash

sports Updated: Mar 30, 2009 09:06 IST

Reuters
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France will be relieved to be back on home turf against Lithuania on Wednesday having played three of four matches in their stuttering World Cup qualifying campaign on the road, captain Thierry Henry said.

While the 1998 world champions have struggled, losing their opening match 3-1 to Austria and drawing 2-2 with Romania, main rivals Spain, England, Netherlands and Germany look to be coasting towards the finals in South Africa next year.

France lie third in Group Seven with seven points, behind Serbia with 12 and Lithuania nine, and can claim second spot with another victory over the Baltic nation in Paris following Saturday's 1-0 success in Kaunas.

"I don't want to look for excuses but in this qualifying campaign we have played three out of four away," Henry told a news conference after Franck Ribery's 67th-minute goal had sealed France's win.

"We will have more matches at home now and it's up to us to try to catch Serbia," he added. "It's not a surprise to see them at the top. They're a footballing nation who still have some great players."

European champions Spain, who beat Turkey 1-0 in Madrid on Saturday, have five wins from five ahead of Wednesday's Group Five match in Istanbul and are now unbeaten in 30 stretching back to November 2006.

England and Netherlands are the other teams with 100 percent records. Fabio Capello's side take on third-placed Ukraine in their Group Six match in London and the Dutch host fourth-placed Macedonia in Amsterdam in Group Nine.

Capello is short of strikers after forward Emile Heskey and strike-partner Carlton Cole both sustained injuries in Saturday's 4-0 friendly win over Slovakia at Wembley.

Giant Step

Spain defender Joan Capdevila said after Saturday's win at the Bernabeu stadium that Vicente del Bosque's side had taken a "giant step" toward qualifying for South Africa.

"The national team is in a purple patch and we have to just enjoy it," the Villarreal player told reporters. "We always go out to win because if you try to play for a draw you'll lose."

Germany travel to Cardiff to face Wales with a four-point lead over second-placed Russia in Group Four. The Russians have a game in hand over Joachim Loew's side and play Liechtenstein in Vaduz.

Czech Republic, third in Group Three, host second-placed Slovakia in Prague looking to get their campaign back on track and cut the two-point gap behind leaders Northern Ireland, who take on Slovenia in Belfast.