Abidal returns for France after liver surgery
Defender Eric Abidal was called up to France's squad Thursday for the first time since he underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his liver.
France coach Laurent Blanc selected the Barcelona player in his 26-man squad for a 2012 European Championship qualifier at Belarus on June 3 and two friendly games at Ukraine and Poland.
France leads the Group D standings with 12 points from five matches after recovering from a defeat at home to Belarus, which is now four points behind.
''The match against Belarus is crucial for French football,'' said Blanc. ''Belarus is a direct rival and this team won in Paris.''
Abidal returned for Barcelona earlier this month after the surgery in mid-March and is bidding for a spot in the team that will face Manchester United in Saturday's Champions League final.
''I left him a message about 10 days ago to tell him I was really happy to see him back on a football pitch,'' Blanc said. ''Hopefully he will be given a starting spot, he is coming back to form.''
Abidal has 52 caps and last played with France in February when Blanc's team beat Brazil 1-0 in a friendly. He was also a member of the squad that reached the 2006 World Cup final.
''He will be delighted to return to the squad and he can bid for a starting spot at leftback,'' Blanc said. ''It's amazing what he has already achieved, this is a good surprise. His return to the squad will boost his morale.''
Thursday's press conference provided Blanc's first public comments since he confessed earlier this month that he considered resigning following a row about introducing quotas at training academies.
At a meeting between Blanc and colleagues from the French Football Federation in November, discussions centered around whether quotas should be introduced at academies for young French players with dual nationality, many of them black and Arab.
Investigative website Mediapart published the discussion last month, prompting the French federation and the sports ministry to launch an investigation.
Blanc, who escaped any sanction, said he will discuss the matter with his players next week during France's training camp.
''I already spoke with some of them on the phone or via text messages,'' he said. ''It will take two or three minutes, then I won't speak about it anymore.''
In the absence of the injured Lassana Diarra and Yoann Gourcuff, Sochaux midfielder Marvin Martin won his first call-up following a consistent season with his club.
Martin scored three goals but led the league for assists, with a total of 17.
''He is a very technical player and I had some concerns in midfield,'' Blanc said. ''It's a reward for his very good second part of the season.''
Regarding Gourcuff's absence, Blanc was adamant that he hadn't excluded him because of his poor showings with Lyon.
''We knew for a while that he was out and we didn't even ask ourselves whether he would be on the list,'' Blanc said. ''Unfortunately for his club and for him, there was absolutely no hope to have him back before the end of the season.''
Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema will lead the attack while Wigan forward Charles N'Zogbia received his first call up since last August.
''He was excellent during the second part of the season and helped his club escape relegation by scoring important goals,'' Blanc said.
Goalkeepers: Cedric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille).
Defenders: Eric Abidal (Barcelona), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Younes Kaboul (Tottenham), Adil Rami (Lille), Anthony Reveillere (Lyon), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Mamadou Sakho (Paris Saint-Germain).
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (Lille), Abou Diaby (Arsenal), Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Yann M'Vila (Rennes), Samir Nasri (Arsenal), Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Blaise Matuidi (Saint-Etienne), Marvin Martin (Sochaux).
Forwards: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kevin Gameiro (Lorient), Guillaume Hoarau (Paris Saint-Germain), Jeremy Menez (AS Roma), Charles N'Zogbia (Wigan), Loic Remy (Marseille), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille).