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France chase record in Rotterdam

Four years after winning UEFA EURO 2000™, France return to De Kuip aiming to secure a record 15th straight win.

By Berend Scholten & Simon Hart

There may be key players missing on both sides but France's return to De Kuip still promises to be "an interesting match", as Dutch coach Dick Advocaat has described it.

Record run
France are missing Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord but their first match in Rotterdam since the dramatic defeat of Italy in the final of UEFA EURO 2000™ offers them the chance to create a small piece of history. After 14 straight wins, Jacques Santini's side can set a record for international football if they make it 15 tonight.

Serious test
Not only are they winning matches, they have not conceded a goal in 689 minutes - which is more than seven games. Since losing to the Czech Republic in February last year, France have been unstoppable, but this could prove their most serious test since that last loss.

Full-strength defence
Indeed for coach Santini, it is arguably his last chance to assess his squad before naming his party for Portugal. France have no fixture next month and club commitments mean he will likely be without a long list of players for the meeting with Brazil on 20 May. Santini can at least run the rule over a full-strength defence while seeing how some of his fringe players fare further up the field.

Malbranque debut
The in-form Johan Micoud, in the squad for the first time under Santini, is likely to start on the left of midfield, with Olympique Lyonnais's Sidney Govou on the right. Olivier Dacourt will anchor the midfield alongside Benoît Pedretti, although Santini is expected to give Steed Malbranque a run-out at some stage, for what will be the Fulham FC player's first cap.

Looking to impress
Other men looking to impress will be Lyon striker Péguy Luyindula and AS Monaco FC captain Ludovic Giuly, and the former could get the chance to state his credentials alongside Thierry Henry.

Positive spin
As for the hosts, coach Advocaat is without Jaap Stam, Frank de Boer, Clarence Seedorf, - all of whom have withdrawn because of injury - and, quite possibly, Wilfred Bouma and Ruud van Nistelrooij, who are serious doubts. However, he put a positive spin on their absences at the Dutch squad's Noordwijk base when he said: "With Holland, there will always be top players on the field, and so as a coach there is always the chance to experiment. Now other players can show what they are capable of."

Making a point
Those players out to make a point will include Chelsea FC's Mario Melchiot, set for his first appearance in eleven months on the right of the defence and AFC Ajax's Johnny Heitinga who will play in the centre. In midfield, Manchester City FC's Paul Bosvelt will replace Seedorf.

Melchiot returns
Speaking about his return from the cold, Melchiot told uefa.com: "The only thing I did was work harder and become stronger. You always have to look at yourself first. So you have to play as well as possible, in that way the national coach cannot ignore you any more."

No wingers
Given the absences of Arjen Robben and Patrick Kluivert and Andy van der Meyde's fall from favour at FC Internazionale, it seems logical the Dutch will play without wingers in a 4-4-2 system with two central strikers. Roy Makaay will be partnered by Rafael van der Vaart should Van Nistelrooij be declared unfit.