Domenech to test Henry and Gallas vs. Costa Rica
Having finally decided which players to take to the World Cup, France coach Raymond Domenech can test the form and fitness of defender William Gallas and striker Thierry Henry in Wednesday's friendly against Costa Rica.
While Gallas is recovering well from the calf injury that saw him miss the last few weeks of Arsenal's season, Henry played sporadically for Spanish champion Barcelona in a hugely disappointing season.
Domenech said Tuesday that Gallas and Henry will play against Costa Rica in Lens.
"(Thierry) needs to get his rhythm back because physically (he's) in good shape," Domenech said Tuesday. "William's calf is still a concern. He will play a part tomorrow."
Gallas has come through some intense stamina-building sessions.
"I was totally pessimistic a week ago," Domenech said. "I'm not bathing in optimism today, but he has responded well."
Henry started less than half of Barca's league games, scoring just four league goals. The 32-year-old has not played the full 90 minutes of any game since January, and he's scored just five goals in the last 30 games for club and country.
"It's important for him (Henry) to play as well," Domenech said. "There are no untouchable players."
France plays Tunisia and China before its opening World Cup match against Uruguay on June 11.
Domenech announced on Monday night that the 23 players training at the French Alpine resort of Tignes will be going to South Africa. Domenech planned to name his final squad last month, before changing his mind and naming 30, then trimming those down to 24 as he sweated on Gallas' fitness.
Lassana Diarra had to leave the squad because of a genetic red-blood cell disorder, but Domenech decided against calling up anyone else because the players impressed him so much in training.
"We have worked very hard. The program we put in place was even harder than it was in 2006," Domenech said, referring to his pre-World Cup program four years ago.
France has many options in attack with Nicolas Anelka, Djibril Cisse and Andre-Pierre Gignac, but he needs Gallas – his most experienced defender with 78 appearances – alongside Eric Abidal in central defense.
Domenech has been trying out a 4-3-3 formation in training with Jeremy Toulalan as the only holding midfielder.
"It's an interesting option, which offers you more in attack but less certainty at the back," he said.
The team-bonding in Tignes saw some lighthearted camaraderie, but almost ended in farce when Gallas crashed his buggy racing against his teammates on Sunday. He escaped with minor scratches to his left hand.
The players also slept huddled together in sleeping bags in a hotel situated at the bottom of La Grand Mote glacier, at nearly 3,000 meters altitude. Domenech invited former 400-meter hurdles world champion Stephane Diagana and France handball coach Claude Onesta – the Olympic and world champion – to give speeches.
France, which was regularly jeered at home games throughout the qualifiers, clearly needs confidence.
A fractious qualifying campaign saw the team's popularity plummet after Henry's handball set up Gallas for the goal that knocked Ireland out.
With team spirit lacking, Domenech avoided a repeat of the European Championship two years ago, where the younger players like Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri did not mix with the older generation.
The fact he picked neither Nasri or Benzema is a telling sign.
"It's different this time," France defender Sebastien Squillaci said.
The atmosphere was always going to be tense in 2008 when Domenech took 30 players to Tignes and released seven, who all took a helicopter together as they flew away from the Alps to the sound of clicking cameras.
The ever unpopular Domenech had humiliated them, but seems to be smoothing out some of his rough edges.
He let Florent Malouda fly back to London to be with his wife for the birth of their fourth child, and allowed Franck Ribery to go to Madrid to watch his Bayern Munich teammates losing to Inter Milan in the Champions League final.
With Laurent Blanc taking over after the World Cup, Domenech's embittered six-year reign is in its final weeks.