The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
France coach Didier Deschamps unsure what his best team is ahead of next month's playoffs
PARIS - With Europe's World Cup playoffs looming, France coach Didier Deschamps still does not know what his best team is.
France is second in Group I behind Spain and, barring a monumental collapse by the World Cup winner and two-time European champion, France will have to qualify through next month's playoffs.
Deschamps has had a difficult time so far as coach, and injuries have played their part.
Ahead of Friday's friendly against Australia and the final group qualifier against Finland on Tuesday, Deschamps is still trying to figure out who should be picked when the playoffs come around.
"Best XI? That can also evolve," Deschamps said on Thursday. "Some choices are more difficult in one or two positions, three maximum."
Pressed further if that means some fringe players could still force their way into the reckoning, Deschamps replied by saying "listen, yes, why not? It's obviously better for them to play well tomorrow and on Tuesday" against Finland.
"I have the chance to make six changes in the first match, and give people a game. It will come into my mind when I make my choices. Of the 23, most of them will get to play. They won't be two identical teams, but I'm not going to make 11 changes (for Finland), either. You still have to keep the spine of the team."
He will likely pick a strong team against Australia, with important FIFA ranking points available.
The contest for the No. 9 jersey is intensifying between the out-of-sorts Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud.
Benzema has not scored in his past 15 games for France — with a frustrated Giroud usually watching from the bench — and is struggling for Real Madrid. Giroud has been one of English Premier League leader Arsenal's best players this season.
Deschamps appears to have ruled out the idea of playing them alongside each other.
"Karim started a lot of games before. He didn't start the last game. One of them will start," Deschamps said. "I believed in Karim, I still believe in him, and in Olivier. One can replace the other."
Patrice Evra and Gael Clichy are contesting the left back slot, and Samir Nasri and Yohan Cabaye are both pushing for a return.
"It's true that they're very closely matched, even if Patrice has played more games than Gael," Deschamps said. "But maybe both can do a little bit more."
Cabaye missed the previous three matches because he was unfit and had not trained for Newcastle as he tried to push through a last-minute move to Arsenal.
Nasri received a three-match ban following last year's European Championship for insulting a journalist and was initially overlooked by Deschamps. But Deschamps said he "did well when he came on" as a substitute against Georgia and Belarus in last month's qualifiers.
"I hope that everyone who comes on has the same attitude and influence on the team," Deschamps said. "He's hungry and it shows."
The soft-spoken goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is France's captain, and there is still a lack of leadership in a team that once had them in abundance with the likes of Patrice Vieira, Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, Emmanuel Petit, Lilian Thuram and Marcel Desailly.
"It's not just through words, it's how they are on the pitch, their commitment," said Deschamps, a former France captain.
Wins against Australia and Finland would improve France's chance of being among the seeded teams for the playoffs. France's ranking has slipped to 25th.
Since qualifying for the World Cup, Australia has lost three and drawn one of its past four games, conceding 13 goals — including a 6-0 thrashing by Brazil in their last game.
"They've already qualified for the World Cup. Obviously their last game against Brazil was difficult and painful," Deschamps said. "Their style of play is pretty direct and they're good at crossing."
But for the fragile confidence of his players, Deschamps will be hoping most of the action is at the other end on Friday.
(1 of 50 articles for this week)12/4/2013 5:38 PM 0