Desailly set to clinch French record


PARIS: It may only be a friendly international, one of a raft taking place today, but France's meeting with Egypt at the Stade de France will stand out as a major milestone for one man who has won every major honour with his country.  

Chelsea veteran defender Marcel Desailly lifted the World Cup at the same stadium five years ago and went on to win Euro 2000. 

And if the Egypt game will not quite match that memorable win over Brazil the evening will be almost as poignant as Desailly is set to win a French record 104th international cap. 

The achievement will take Ghana-born Desailly past 1998 skipper Didier Deschamps, now retired and looking to lead Monaco to the French league title. 

Real Madrid pair Zinedine Zidane and Claude Makelele as well as Juventus defender Lilian Thuram will miss the Egyptian date as their clubs are still in the Champions League. 

France have strolled through their Euro 2004 qualifying campaign and Desailly will be able to savour his moment without the need to claim a result on an evening which will see their Group One rivals scrap to stay in the race for second spot. 

Israel, forced to play their home matches on neutral territory owing to political tension in the Middle East, will take on Cyprus in Palermo, Sicily, amid tight security, while Malta host Slovenia at Ta'qali – but the French look almost unstoppable after winning their first five matches. 

Only the Slovenes, nine points adrift but with two matches in hand, have any real hope of catching Les Bleus. 

Spain's stranglehold on Group Six is almost as strong as the French one on their group but that has not prevented a row erupting ahead of their friendly against Ecuador after Valencia players Vicente and David Albelda failed to turn up with the rest of the squad on Monday, citing injuries. 

Valencia sent a fax to the Spanish football federation saying 22-year-old Vicente had a twisted ankle and David, 28, a muscular problem - although both played at the weekend. 

Spain coach Inaki Saez was furious. 

“There are rules and they should be adhered to. Those who did not turn up could be suspended for a month.” 

Saez reacted by calling up midfielders Javier De Pedro of Real Sociedad and Deportivo La Coruna's Sergio as well as Barcelona defender Gabri, who could make his debut on Wednesday. 

World champions Brazil are in action away to Mexico in Guadalajara and they also have to make changes owing to a leg strain which will keep out AC Milan playmaker Rivaldo as well as AS Roma defender Cafu. 

Rivaldo's absence opens the door to teen newcomer Robson de Souza, just 19 and nicknamed Robinho. 

Robinho plays for Pele's old club Santos and coach Carlos Alberto Parreira is ready to hand him a debut. 

Portugal, who beat Brazil in a friendly last month, have a potentially attractive encounter away to Holland, whom they edged out in 2002 World Cup qualifiers. 

One of the evening's more intriguing match-ups sees Argentina visit Tripoli to face Libya while an assortment of other games sees Germany host Serbia-Montenegro in Bremen and the Czech Republic meet Turkey, anxious to bounce back from their Euro 2004 qualifier defeat away to England, in Prague. 

Elsewhere, Scotland take on Austria in Glasgow in a match which coach Berti Vogts will use to assess form ahead of a vital June Euro 2004 qualifier against Germany while Italy, who are chasing after Wales in their Euro 2000 qualifying group, travel to Geneva to face Switzerland. 

The Swiss currently lead qualifying Group Ten ahead of a Russian side who have the chance to go top if they can see off tailenders Georgia. The match will be played in an empty stadium after European football's governing body UEFA ruled the Georgians should be punished for the violence which marred their 2-1 loss to the Republic of Ireland on March 29. 

Kevin Kilbane was struck by an open pen-knife blade, a glass vodka bottle also smashed against Irish keeper Shay Given's post and a plastic bottle was thrown at Damien Duff. 

Russia's football union chief General Vladimir Radionov had requested that their qualifier against Georgia be switched to a neutral venue because of instability in the former Soviet republic – but that plea failed.  

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