By Matthew Allen
Switzerland centre-back Patrick Müller is backing his side to inflict an overdue defeat on neighbours France when the neighbours meet in 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying Group 4 in Paris on Saturday.
The Swiss have not beaten France since a 2-1 victory in Lausanne in 1992. France ran out 2-0 winners in an August 2003 friendly and Switzerland were undone by two late Thierry Henry goals as they lost 3-1 and tumbled out of the group stage of UEFA EURO 2004™ in their last encounter in June.
However, Müller believes that Switzerland showed enough fight in that latter game in Portugal, pegging Les Bleus back at 1-1 until the last 14 minutes, to give them hope of breaking their 13-year winless streak against the former world and European champions. "In Portugal, we created chances to win and we must always think positively as a team," he said.
A number of French stalwarts have retired since EURO 2004™ - including Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu and Claude Makelele - but Müller warned against complacency. "Of course they have lost a few experienced players and you cannot replace the likes of Zidane easily - he was a very important part of their team," Müller said.
"But at the same time we cannot afford to be too relaxed against a team that still has the likes of Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Patrick Vieira in their lineup. We must concentrate on the players that they still have, not on the ones that have left. They are still a very strong side, but we gained confidence by giving them a hard game the last time we played."
The 28-year-old signed for FC Basel 1893 in January, and feels he matured as a player during his four-year stint in France with Olympique Lyonnais. "I am not loud or brash, but I do seek out responsibility on the pitch," he said. "Every player, whether they are 20 or 30, should accept responsibility. I get a good overview of what is happening at the back.
I try to put across my thoughts in a controlled, sensible manner and not by screaming because that is not being positive."
Switzerland started their World Cup qualifying campaign with a thumping 6-0 defeat of the Faroe Islands, but were then held to successive draws against the Republic of Ireland and Israel. They currently sit in third spot in Group 4 with five points, three behind Ireland, France and Israel, but with a game in hand over all three rivals.
A timely 2-1 victory in a friendly against the United Arab Emirates in February, in which Müller volleyed in a superb 25-metre winner, got Switzerland back to winning ways. "The national team hadn't played together for a while so it was important for team spirit to play that game," Müller said. "The win has boosted our confidence for the game against France.
"We obviously want to win against France, but we don't need to because there are still of lot of games to come after that match. Having said that, we need to get as many points as fast as possible and try to qualify quickly."
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