France coach Roger Lemerre said on Friday his side had been given a favourable qualifying draw for EURO 2004™ but admitted his immediate priorites lay elsewhere.
With the UEFA European Championship holders drawn against Slovenia, Cyprus, Israel and Malta, Lemerre is confident that France will make good progress when the qualifying games begin, even though they have unpleasant memories of the last time they met Israel.
'A lot of hope'
A shock home defeat against the Israelis denied France a place in the 1994 FIFA World Cup finals in the United States, but Lemerre was not perturbed by meeting them again. "The Israel game is in the future and I don't know what I will be doing then, but it's a group that gives France a lot of hope," Lemerre said.
As the world and European champions prepare to challenge for honours at the World Cup in Korea/Japan, the France coach was determined that his side would not be distracted by thoughts of EURO 2004™. "European championship qualification doesn't concern me right now because my main task is the World Cup," he said.
Slovenia coach Srecko Katanec was concerned about having to face the world champions in qualification, but was also keen to keep his mind on the World Cup finals as Slovenia hope to follow up their impressive performance at EURO 2000™ with another excellent showing.
’We could settle for second place’
"Of course it will be difficult against France but we could settle for second place and take our chances," he said. "But for now we are all preparing for the World Cup, that remains the priority. We will have to be focused, but France will definitely be the absolute favourites in our group and we will be contesting second place, probably with Cyprus and Israel."
A note of caution
While Cyprus, Israel and Malta are not necessarily daunting opponents, Katanec sounded a note of caution for his ambitious side. "We Slovenians must be aware of our own strengths and use them to the best of our ability because we know it will not be easy to qualify as all the teams in the group are capable of taking points off each other," he said.
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