France go into battle with Holland without usual midfield

  • Other Sport
  • Wednesday, 31 Mar 2004

ROTTERDAM: No Zidane, no Vieira, no Pires – coach Jacques Santini will send out a France side missing their usual midfield in today's friendly against Holland. 

Although first choice strikers Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet are fit, the absence of Zinedine Zidane, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira and Sylvain Wiltord because of injury will be a major handicap for the European champions. 

“I think it is the first time Wiltord, Zidane and Pires are all missing apart from the Confederations Cup,” said Santini. 

Playmaker Zidane withdrew on Monday after sustaining a groin injury during Real Madrid's 5-1 thrashing of Seville. 

Arsenal pair Vieira and Pires had pulled out of the squad on Sunday after the 1-1 draw against Manchester United, and their club team mate Wiltord is a long-term injury absentee. 

Santini is likely to field in-form Werder Bremen playmaker Johan Micoud as he tries out new combinations before France open the defence of their European title in Portugal in June. 

The 30-year-old Micoud, who won the last of his 16 caps as a late substitute during France's 2-0 defeat by Denmark at the 2002 World Cup, has scored nine goals and helped Bremen build a large lead at the top of the Bundesliga this season. 

“I have to be more relaxed, it is up to me to play as I usually do,” said the former Parma and Girondins Bordeaux player. “I have to fit into a new squad, into a new system.” 

Micoud could well play just behind Henry and Trezeguet, with either Monaco skipper Ludovic Giuly or Olympique Lyon forward Sidney Govou on his right side. 

In the defensive midfield, the steel should come from AS Roma's Olivier Dacourt and Chelsea's Claude Makelele against a revived Dutch team who have also qualified for Euro 2004. 

“I don't think it will be a friendly game. Holland are one of the most dangerous teams in Europe,” Santini said. 

France are seeking a record 15th victory in succession, two months after a 2-0 win over Belgium in Brussels. 

“As we won't play any friendlies in April, a good result is a must because it would be hard to live with a defeat or a bad game,” Santini said. 

Dutch coach Dick Advocaat has also been deprived of key players but he said injuries to Frank de Boer, Jaap Stam and Clarence Seedorf did not reduce the value of today's game. 

“These injuries did not come really as a big surprise,” said Advocaat, also without Patrick Kluivert and Arjen Robben. “This is a busy period for top players and for some of them it is not wise to risk injury.” 

The absences of De Boer and Stam have opened the way for Ajax Amsterdam youngster John Heitinga to start in the centre of the defence, while Roy Makaay will link up ith Ruud van Nistelrooy for the first time up front. 

The Dutch will play in Group D in Portugal with Germany, Latvia and the Czech Republic. France play in Group B with England, Croatia and Switzerland. 

Probable line-up 

Holland: Edwin van der Sar; Mario Melchiot, John Heitinga, Philip Cocu, Boudewijn Zenden; Wesley Sneijder, Mark van Bommel, Edgar Davids, Rafael van der Vaart; Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Makaay. 

France: Fabien Barthez; Willy Sagnol, Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu; Olivier Dacourt, Claude Makelele, Johan Micoud, Ludovic Giuly; Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet 

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