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Reigning European champions France are not yet firing on all cylinders at UEFA EURO 2004™. Nevertheless, the form guide suggests that they will book their ticket into the quarter-finals in their final Group B encounter against Switzerland in Coimbra on Monday - but the Swiss are steeling themselves for one last effort to remain in Portugal.
The French produced a remarkable finale to defeat England in their opening game in Lisbon last Sunday. They then spluttered fitfully against Croatia on Thursday, a single-goal half-time lead dissolving into a 2-1 deficit in four chaotic early second-half minutes before a draw was salvaged.
The two games so far have given France coach Jacques Santini ample food for thought as he attempts to guide his side to a second successive European crown. France's four points have been earned the hard way, and there have been few signs of the imperious swagger that makes Les Bleus an unstoppable prospect when the force is with them.
It would be a national disaster if France were to slip up against the unfancied Swiss, without a goal after a draw against Croatia and disappointing 3-0 defeat by England. Santini's charges need only a draw to go through. Switzerland would earn a last-eight place if they beat France, and there is a winner in the other group match between Croatia and England.
In the French camp, the soul searching has been long and deep. The holders viewed the Croatia game as a wake-up call. "We're at about 80 per cent physically and mentally," says Santini. "We made too many mistakes in our defensive positioning, and we also gave the ball away too much." France are determined that lessons will be learned in time for the Swiss encounter. Santini has also talked to several players on the topic of tactics.
"Playing for the draw is not what we want to do," Santini said. "We must not underestimate the Swiss." Bixente Lizarazu, Robert Pires and Claude Makelele could all return to the starting lineup while Mikaël Silvestre may drop to the bench because he already has one yellow card in the group stage.
Meanwhile, Switzerland vow to sweat blood to save themselves. Last August, France were utterly dominant against them in picking up a 2-0 friendly win in Geneva, although the Swiss say that nothing can be read into that game. Playmaker Hakan Yakin has called on his team to "seize the chance". "We wanted a different scenario ahead of this game," added defender Patrick Müller. "But why shouldn't we beat France? The chance might be small but at least there is one."
Stade Rennais FC striker Alexander Frei was withdrawn from the game on Monday by the Swiss Football Association following an alleged spitting incident against England, so Daniel Gygax may come in to partner Stéphane Chapuisat up front. What a tonic it would be for Switzerland if Chapuisat, in the twilight of an outstanding career, rediscovered the fire of his younger days and helped create a genuine sensation. In coach Jakob Kuhn's 4-3-1-2 formation, the suspended Bernt Haas, Fabio Celestini and Benjamin Huggel are set to be replaced by Stéphane Henchoz, Johann Vogel and Ricardo Cabanas respectively.
Logic favours France
France have been given sufficient lessons in football's unpredictability recently. While normal logic favours them to make progress to the knockout stages, they need to avoid any hint of complacency against the dogged Swiss.
Switzerland (possible): Stiel; Henchoz, Murat Yakin, Müller, Spycher; Cabanas, Vogel, Wicky; Hakan Yakin; Gygax, Chapuisat.
France (possible): Barthez; Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Lizarazu; Pires, Vieira, Makelele; Zidane; Trezeguet, Henry.
Referee: Luboš Michel (SVK)
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