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France desperate for victory against Serbia

France's World Cup qualifying match against Serbia suddenly looks a lot trickier following its humiliating opening loss to Austria.

india Updated: Sep 08, 2008, 15:12 IST
Stuart Condie
Stuart Condie

France's World Cup qualifying match against Serbia on Wednesday suddenly looks a lot trickier following its humiliating opening loss to Austria.

While Italy and England are also among the sides looking to improve upon disappointing first performances in European qualifying, at least they are coming off wins as they prepare to take on Georgia and Croatia, respectively.

There's no such comfort for a France team that is now desperate for a victory as it tries to catch up with surprise Group 7 leaders Lithuania. Defender Patrice Evra is among those who fear another defeat would seriously hurt the team's chances of reaching a fourth straight World Cup in 2010.

"If we don't beat Serbia, there will be doubts over our qualification," Evra said.

Coach Raymond Domenech was more sanguine about his team's chances, but knows there are changes to be made for the match in Saint-Denis.

Despite the experience of playing at the highest club level, the likes of Arsenal's William Gallas and AS Roma's Philippe Mexes struggled against Austria, which managed two first-half goals from free kicks and a second-half penalty for Saturday's 3-1 win.

Gallas should stay in the team but Mexes appears in danger of losing his place after he was at fault for all three goals _ including a comical rugby-style tackle on Marc Janko that conceded the penalty.

"Qualification is achieved over a series of matches. There is one coming on Wednesday against Serbia and we will have to be ready," Domenech said. "We will have to fight until the end." But many were questioning whether Domenech himself would be ready, even before the loss in Vienna.

In July, the French Football Federation voted to keep Domenech in charge following an embarrassing first-round exit from the European Championship, but unconfirmed media reports stated that the FFF gave him a target of taking at least five points from France's first three qualifiers _ meaning France now has to beat Serbia. Serbia opened with a 2-0 win over no-hopers the Faeroe Islands and now has a good opportunity to take advantage of a worried French squad.

"We will need the fans behind us," goalkeeper Steve Mandana said. "I don't know what kind of reception we will get. But we hope the whole stadium gets behind us, because we need the 12th man." In other of the day's 25 European matches,
Romania has the ideal chance to get over the trauma of its 3-0 home defeat to Lithuania when it travels to the Faeroe Islands.

"It was a shameful evening, to forget as soon as possible," said Cosmin Contra, who will probably captain Romania again because Christian Chivu will oin Adrian Mutu and Razvan Rat injured on the sidelines.

Austria is at Lithuania in the other group match. World Cup champion Italy, meanwhile, hosts Georgia three days after needing an injury-time goal from Antonio Di Natale to win 2-1 at lowly Cyprus in Group 8.

England is at Croatia, where it suffered a traumatic defeat in qualification for this year's European Championship, and would have hoped for a more convincing warmup than its 2-0 win at Andorra on Saturday.

While Croatia, which also won at Wembley to reach Euro 2008, was comfortably disposing of Kazakhstan 3-0, England opened
its Group 6 efforts with a disjointed performance and needed two second-half goals from substitute Joe Cole to beat No. 186-ranked Andorra. "I know it's a football cliche, but they put 10 men behind the ball and stopped us playing," Cole said. "But we still didn't move the ball as well as we'd like to have done. The confidence of the team was a bit low."

It could be even lower after the match in Zagreb, where England lost 2-0 two years ago, partly because of an own-goal and goalkeeping error by Paul Robinson.

Cole should replace Stewart Downing in the starting lineup, even though coach Fabio Capello said he was unhappy with some of the midfielder's positional play.

The Netherlands sat out Saturday's round of matches and, after a 2-1 friendly loss to visiting Australia, needs a bright start to Group 9 against Iceland to give itself confidence of clinching one of the spots at the 2010 tournament in South Africa. Each of the nine group winners advance, with eight second-place teams entering playoffs for another four places.

Germany has no such worries after opening with a 6-0 win at Liechtenstein.

"We produced a class performance," coach Joachim Loew said. "We can be pleased with the first step in qualifying but Finland is of course going to be a lot more difficult."

The Germans stayed in Switzerland after the match in neighboring Liechtenstein before leaving for Helsinki. Defender Marcell Jansen missed Sunday's practice because of a cold.

"We will seek to play as offensively and to win again," said Loew, who will be without injured midfielders Michael Ballack and Torsten Frings, and defender Per Mertesacker.

Portugal will also be expecting a tougher match when it meets Denmark. The Portuguese won 4-0 at Malta on Saturday. Denmark striker Jon Dahl Tomasson is not 100 percent, but expects to play in Lisbon.

"My ribs are hurting and my ankle is not OK," said Tomasson, who limped off the field during the second half of a 0-0 draw against Hungary. "We expect that Portugal is a stronger opponent than Hungary, although the Hungarians were better than normal." In Group 5, European champion Spain will be attempting to run its unbeaten streak to 25 games when it hosts lowly Armenia.

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