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Signs of renewed flair results in loss for France

With under 100 days left until the World Cup, a cloud of uncertainty still hangs over Les Bleus.

india Updated: Mar 02, 2006 23:32 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press

With under 100 days left until the World Cup, a cloud of uncertainty still hangs over Les Bleus.

With a 2-1 loss to Slovakia on Wednesday, France suffered their first defeat in 18 games under manager Raymond Domenech, but played their best soccer since he took over in July 2004.

Having accepted their side as workmanlike, French fans were briefly reminded of their championship days.

One passing combination between Zinedine Zidane, David Trezeguet and Nicolas Anelka had the crowd on its feet roaring appreciation. Flair and creativity appeared to have returned— yet the team lost.

"It's paradoxical. It's one of the rare games when we managed to create so many chances and we lose," striker Thierry Henry said.

"Other times, we would sneak a goal, draw 0-0 or be dominated. We didn't lose and people moaned.

"This time we played some good football, and then we get a knife in the back."

Thwarted repeatedly by Slovakia goalkeeper Lubos Hajduch, France were frustated on all but one of their 11 clear chances, while Slovakia converted two of their opportunities— both from outside the penalty area.

"The score doesn't really reflect how the match went," defender Mickael Silvestre said.

"We created chances even though the Slovaks played with a defensive block. We take a lot of positives from this."

Domenech shares his players upbeat message, but things are far from "serene"— the word regularly used by Domenech to describe the mood in the French camp.

Some players, notably Fabien Barthez and Vikash Dhorasoo, have lost the faith of the fans.

Eight years ago, supporters hailed Barthez for his key saves in the 3-0 World Cup final win over Brazil. On Wednesday night, he was jeered throughout the match.

Domenech was outraged. The fans had also whistled him prior to the kickoff.

"People have short memories," he said. "It is inconceivable to boo someone wearing French colors."

Domenech has been much vilified since replacing from Jacques Santini.

The critics queued up as France struggled to qualify for the World Cup. Zidane, Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram all returned to help France top their group.

Mocked for his affection for astrology and aversion to players born under the Scorpio star-sign— such as Arsenal's Robert Pires— Domenech also has made some questionable selections.

He called up 19-year-old Rio-Antonio Mavuba from Bordeaux for a crucial World Cup qualifier against Ireland, pitting him against veteran Roy Keane.

Domenech overlooks Werder Bremen's Johan Micoud but persists with Dhorasoo, even though he was dropped to Paris Saint-Germain's reserve team.

One of the brightest talents of the German Bundesliga, Micoud is a regular scorer, while Dhorasoo has found the net only once in the last two seasons.

Domenech, however, scored points with the critics by recalling Anelka after a long exile. Anelka scored against Costa Rica and looked sharp against Germany and Slovakia.

Anelka was battling Liverpool's Djibril Cisse for the last striker's spot.

But Domenech dropped Cisse for the Slovakia match, recalling Manchester United forward Louis Saha after a glut of goals. All three will be hoping to find the net and catch Domenech's eye in time for Germany.

First Published: Mar 02, 2006 23:32 IST