Monday, November 29, 1999

Confident Mexico determined to upset France

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A French team in disarray will face a Mexico lineup which is growing in confidence in a Group A match on Thursday that could be crucial in determining who progresses in the World Cup.Mexico scored a late equalizer in the tournament's first match against South Africa, taking some of the gloss of the opening day celebrations for the host nation. France opened later last Friday with a lackluster scoreless draw against Uruguay that didn't encourage anybody except their group rivals."They have their names, we have ours. But names don't play, men do," Mexico captain Gerardo Torrado said. "Nothing short of a win is good for us."France defender Eric Abidal says "things will become even harder if we have a bad result" because the French then have to take on South Africa in their last group game played in front of passionate home supporters.France is usually a slow starter, having failed to win its opening match at the 2002 and '06 World Cups and at the European Championship two years ago in another scoreless draw.Although France went on to reach the final at Germany 2006, Raymond Domenech's current team seems dispirited and disheveled amid rumors of a row between the coach and Florent Malouda, tensions between players and the country's sports minister Rama Yade. Former captain Zinedine Zidane has criticized the team, and dejected fans are starting to lose belief."Football is simple. You have to win matches , and once you win matches everyone is beautiful and the best friends in the world," Malouda said. "As soon as results become more difficult, you see stories appearing left and right. The only answer is to win games and then everyone will be smiling at you."Malouda is pushing for a place in Domenech's starting lineup after being dropped to the bench against Uruguay the day after a heated training session where Domenech told him not to fly so heavily into tackles.Such aggression is lacking in front of goal and Domenech must decide whether to replace the ineffective Nicolas Anelka in attack."We're capable of creating chances, let's hope it's the same against Mexico and we can put them away," Abidal said.The only positives France could take from its dull draw against Uruguay were the solid performance of Abou Diaby in midfield, and a rare clean sheet from a makeshift defense.Although Abidal is a left back, he is playing at center half alongside William Gallas, who is still struggling to find his best form after recovering from a torn calf muscle.Mexico's lively strikers Carlos Vela and Giovani Dos Santos could cause Gallas and Abidal problems with their pace and trickery after combining for some promising moves in the 1-1 draw against South Africa."They have a lot of potential in attack, but so do we," Abidal said. "If you want to go all the way, you will come up against a lot of top strikers, so you have to be prepared for that. Against South Africa we saw that they like to play on the counter attack and launch attacks from deep."FIFA turned down France's request to draft in a replacement for its injured goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso.Carrasso tore his left hamstring in training Monday, ruling him out for at least one month and the rest of the tournament. The French Football Federation had hoped FIFA would grant special permission to replace him.France arrived for team training Wednesday evening, beginning with a series of passing, shooting and crossing drills.Mexico coach Javier Aguirre prefers to rely on a settled team and should stick with his three-pronged attack, which has veteran West Ham forward Guillermo Franco holding the central role and with Vela and Dos Santos out wide."It's what has brought us here and we're not going to change," Aguirre said. "Yes, we do leave a lot of space at the back, but we're going to continue this way."Marquez hurt his right calf muscle in the second half against South Africa but is confident he is now fully fit."I'm fine now ... at 100 percent," he said. "I've had trouble with the calf and against South Africa I even was thinking of being taken off, but I've been able to recover over the past few days."Marquez, a teammate of Thierry Henry and Abidal at Barcelona, is fearful that the French have a tendency to bounce back after indifferent starts at major tournaments."They are very strong in attack and defense, even though in attack they are not living up to the level that we're accustomed to seeing," Marquez said. "But they have big players that can make the difference at any moment."Vela, however, is predicting an upset."Man by man we are made to achieve greater things and we will come out against France to win," he said.

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