By Matthew Spiro
France's new captain Patrick Vieira is relishing the opportunity to take on extra responsibility as Les Bleus start their 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign against Israel on Saturday.
With Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu, Lilian Thuram and Zinedine Zidane announcing their international retirement after France bowed out in the quarter-finals at UEFA EURO 2004™, one of new coach Raymond Domenech's first tasks was to find a new captain, and he wasted little time in appointing the Arsenal FC midfield player.
'A great honour'
Vieira has already represented his country 72 times and believes he is ready to take the captain's armband. "I feel very proud to captain France," he told uefa.com. "It's a great honour and hopefully I will do a good job. I've captained Arsenal for the last two years, so I know what the job entails."
Finding his voice
Vieira admits that he will need to become more vocal on the pitch to be a successful captain. "I don't usually talk a lot and I am certainly not the sort of player who goes around shouting orders," he explained. "But I can still help my team-mates by offering a word of advice at the right moment.
"I've learned to become more vocal at Arsenal and now I'll have to do the same with France. But we still have other experienced players like Fabien [Barthez], Thierry [Henry] and Robert [Pires] who will point people in the right direction."
The France team has taken on a much younger look since the arrival of Domenech, who was previously in charge of the Under-21s. Vieira is now hoping that Domenech's experience of working with young players will help France move forward.
"We have no choice but to blood some younger players," he said. "I believe Domenech is a good man for the job because he has such great knowledge of the youngsters in France and he knows how to get the best out of them."
Like the majority of the France squad, Vieira has already played under Domenech. "It was a while ago now," said the 28-year-old, "but I still have good memories of my time with Les Espoirs. I don't think [Domenech] has changed much, although we haven't been together a lot since his appointment. It is too early to make judgements. We are still getting to know the new staff and getting used to the way Domenech runs things."
Domenech's new-look team got off to an indifferent start when they were held to a draw by Bosnia-Herzegovina in a friendly two weeks ago, and Vieira, who is set for his first appearance of the season after recovering from a thigh injury, knows there will be little room for error against Israel.
"It's vital that we get three points in our first match, although that is not going to be easy," he warned. "Israel are very strong tactically and they know how to get results. We beat them 3-0 at the Stade de France last year but before we scored our first goal they had us in real difficulty."
Vieira is nonetheless confident that Domenech's new-look France will get into its stride soon. "
It is the start of a new adventure for us," he said. "Some great players have decided to stop playing for France and now there is a chance for others to shine. We need to work hard together so that the team gels quickly, but I feel sure we have enough quality to be successful."
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