Hosts France eyeing the top spot


PARIS: Defending champions France will be looking to secure top spot in Confederations Cup Group A when they entertain New Zealand at the Stade de France today. 

The French are the first side through to the last four after hard-earned victories over Colombia and Japan. 

They lead the table on six points, while Japan and Colombia, both on three points, meet in a decisive match at St Etienne. 

Top spot would assure France of a semi-final at the Stade de France against the second team in Group B, avoiding another trip away from their training camp of Clairefontaine. 

Far from their best so far, the European champions will still be hot favourites against the All Whites, who have conceded six goals in two games and scored only one. 

France, deprived of playmaker Zinedine Zidane and midfielders Patrick Vieira and Claude Makelele, have lacked inspiration but shown they are still a hard team to beat. 

Coach Jacques Santini will have to reshuffle his starting line-up after a tough game against the Japanese in St Etienne on Friday left several players tired or injured. 

“France must win this final round match,” Santini said. “But we will have to spare some players. (Midfielder) Jerome Rothen sustained an ankle injury. 

“Robert Pires – who captained France for the first time – is exhausted while Ousmane Dabo finished the match with cramp. The one-day break will be what we badly need.” 

Santini said Monaco playmaker Ludovic Giuly would start the match. Giuly is the last outfield player to get a game in the tournament. 

Santini will have to do without defender Willy Sagnol and goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, two key players in the side's defensive set-up. 

Sagnol, arguably the best French player against Japan, was sent off in injury time and is suspended, while Barthez is about to become a father. 

“Fabien is not going back with us to Paris. He will return some time before the semi-final,” French team press officer Philippe Tournon said. 

This could give youthful Nantes goalkeeper Mickael Landreau the opportunity to earn his second cap. 

Landreau played in a match of the Confederations Cup in Japan two years ago. 

The All Whites can expect a repeat of their previous campaign in Mexico in 1999 when they finished with three consecutive defeats in the first round. 

Mike Waitt's side hung on for about an hour against Colombia before they caved in physically and conceded three goals in the last 30 minutes. 

“We don't give anything up,” said Waitt. “We will try to do our best against the French.” – Reuters 

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