Not even a lengthy absentee list can deter Raymond Domenech as he closes in on his target of becoming the first France coach in two decades to lead Les Bleus to FIFA World Cup qualification.
Weight of history
France visit Switzerland on Saturday knowing a victory against the Group 4 leaders, whom they trail on goal difference only, would secure top spot in the section and a place in the Germany finals. However, not since 1986 have the national team successfully negotiated a World Cup qualifying tournament, and if they are to scratch that itch, they will have to do so without a number of key players.
On the sidelines
Missing from action in Berne this weekend will be Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Gaël Givet, all of whom are injured, plus the suspended Willy Sagnol and Fabien Barthez. In addition, Lilian Thuram is struggling with a knock and Zinedine Zidane only returned from a three-week lay-off on Sunday. Henry, France's match-winner in the crucial group game in the Republic of Ireland last month, has a groin problem which will also rule him out of the match against Cyprus in Paris next Wednesday.
Trezeguet too sits out the qualifying double-header – "I spoke with the Juventus [FC] medical staff and David cannot even walk properly," Domenech revealed – while defender Givet added to the coach's selection worries by pulling out of the squad on Tuesday. His replacement, 30-year-old Franck Jurietti, is uncapped, but according to Domenech, "playing in the best defence in France" at FC Girondins de Bordeaux.
Not so easy
Les Bleus brushed aside Switzerland 3-1 at UEFA EURO 2004™, but the 0-0 draw at the Stade de France in March might be a more realistic gauge of the strength of the opposition.
Strength in depth
Nevertheless, the coach is undaunted. "Regardless of the injuries, I still have several attacking options," said Domenech, who has Sidney Govou, Djibril Cissé and Sylvain Wiltord ready to step in. "I might be missing the two best strikers in the business, but I am confident the players on the pitch will play to their potential. Of course, I would have preferred to have everyone fit, but I put my trust in those who can play."
Yet even a draw could be enough for France in this closely-fought group. Compared with the visit of Cyprus, Switzerland have a much tougher assignment on the final matchday – away to an Ireland side still in qualifying contention. So the force may indeed be with Domenech.
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