PARIS: France captain Marcel Desailly, who was on the brink of beating Didier Deschamps's national record of 103 caps, has been left out of their 20-man squad for Euro 2004 qualifiers against Malta and Israel.
“Marcel has been having physical problems for several weeks and I need players who are perfectly fit to play,” French coach Jacques Santini told reporters on Tuesday.
The 34-year-old defender has been sidelined by a hip injury since France were defeated 2-0 by the Czech Republic in a friendly at the Stade de France on Feb 12 when he equalled Deschamps's appearances record.
He only played for eight minutes for Premier League Chelsea on Sunday, coming on as a substitute towards the end of their 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion.
Desailly said on his website he understood Santini's decision which he described as “logical”.
“I've got four matches coming up in two weeks and if I come through okay I hope to become competitive again.”
In other few changes to the team that lost to the Czechs, Santini dropped midfielder Emmanuel Petit, who has only played twice for Chelsea since Feb 12, and called Monaco's Jerome Rothen into his squad for the first time.
“Petit was not really available for selection. I can assure you that his omission and Desailly's have nothing to do with our defeat to the Czech Republic which was a freak result. They are only due to injuries and form,” said Santini.
“I'm sure both players will be very disappointed. I tried to talk to them but could only reach their voice mail.”
The French coach recalled Manchester United goalkeeper Fabien Barthez after injury.
Robert Pires, who missed out on last year's World Cup Finals and Euro 2004 qualifiers after tearing a ligament in his right knee, will play in midfield alongside his Arsenal teammate Patrick Vieira and Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane.
Arsenal's Thierry Henry should lead the attack, David Trezeguet of Juventus, AJ Auxerre's Djibril Cisse, Olympique Lyon's Sidney Govou and Fulham's Steve Marlet jostling for the other striker's position.
France erased some of the painful memories of their World Cup first round elimination by winning their opening three Euro 2004 qualifiers before suffering a relapse against the Czechs. They still top Group One.
They play Malta on March 29 in Lens and Israel on April 2 in the Italian city of Palermo as the Israeli FA are not allowed to host matches in Tel Aviv because of the security situation in the Middle East.
Santini said the team would assemble on March 25 without “several regular players” because of the FA Cup quarter-final replay between Arsenal and Chelsea.
“I shall spend the evening on the phone to be sure that none of them are injured,” he added. “Then and only then, we shall start to think about our starting line-up and the captaincy.” – Reuters
THE FRENCH SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Fabien Barthez (Manchester United), Gregory Coupet (Olympique Lyon).
Defenders: William Gallas (Chelsea), Bixente Lizarazu (Bayern Munich), Philippe Mexes (AJ Auxerre), Willy Sagnol (Bayern Munich), Mikael Silvestre (Manchester United), Lilian Thuram (Juventus).
Midfielders: Claude Makelele (Real Madrid), Benoit Pedretti (Sochaux), Robert Pires (Arsenal), Jerome Rothen (Monaco), Patrick Vieira (Arsenal), Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid), Sylvain Wiltord (Arsenal).
Strikers: Djibril Cisse (AJ Auxerre), Sidney Govou (Olympique Lyon), Thierry Henry (Arsenal), Steve Marlet (Fulham), David Trezeguet (Juventus).