France happy with World Cup draw

France players welcomed a favorable World Cup draw Friday for their team, which was not seeded but avoided tough opponents for its group matches at next year’s tournament.

France, which won the World Cup in 1998 and played the 2006 final, will face host country South Africa, Mexico and Uruguay in Group A.

“I’ve heard about two or three groups far more difficult than our pool,” Lyon striker Sidney Govou said on RTL radio. “We make no secret of it, we had a favorable draw. But small details make the difference and we will have to play at our best.”

Govou added that he would be “very proud” to play against the host country.

France, which missed out on a place in the seeded pot of teams, has never lost against Mexico and South Africa, but has won only once in five encounters with Uruguay. France was held to a scoreless draw by the two-time world champions at the World Cup in 2002, when France was ousted in the group phase without scoring a goal.

Bixente Lizarazu, who played on the team in 1998, said France was lucky enough to have been drawn with the weakest seeded team, South Africa.

“It’s obviously more than favorable. There are two weak groups, the one with Spain and France’s pool,” Lizarazu said. “The only team capable of threatening France in this group is Mexico.”

Even if France avoided the biggest teams, defender Eric Abidal warned his teammates against complacency and said his team’s main objective was to “reach the final and to win it.”

“But we have to be careful and avoid upsets, because before the qualifying campaign people thought France was going to finish well ahead of the other teams,” he said. “And we ended up playing a playoff.”

Following a shaky qualifying campaign, France finally earned its place at next year’s tournament following a controversial win over Ireland in a two-leg playoff. Forward Thierry Henry twice handled the ball before passing to William Gallas, who scored the goal that gave France a 1-1 draw and 2-1 win on aggregate to qualify instead of Ireland.

“When you look at it, you can think at first that this is an easy group, but today there is no small football nation,” France defender Bacary Sagna said of the draw. “We want to impress. We feel that the tournament is going to start soon but the good thing is that we still have time to prepare.”

Sagna added he was happy France was placed in the South Africa’s group because “the match will be played in a great atmosphere.”

France sports minister Rama Yade said the match would be a perfect occasion for the team to show its potential.

“It couldn’t be better from a sports, cultural and political point of view,” Yade said. “I’m very happy to see this fixture. For the French people, it’s going to be a real party. France will have the chance to remind (its opponents) it has guts.”

France coach Raymond Domenech downplayed the enthusiasm and said he was “not relieved” after the draw.

“We have been drawn in the host country’s group and it’s never easy,” Domenech said. “We know how important it is to host in World Cup matches. It will be an away game (against South Africa).”