Domenech worried by injuries

BY foxsports • March 2, 2010

Following an unconvincing qualifying campaign for the World Cup, injury-plagued France has few hopes of victory before taking on European champion Spain in a friendly at Stade de France on Wednesday.

With seven regular players out with injuries, France coach Raymond Domenech doesn't expect his team to shine less than four months before the finals in South Africa.

"We know that Spain is one of the World Cup favorites along with Brazil," Domenech said. "This match is offering us the chance to see where we stand."

Without the likes of Arsenal defender William Gallas and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, Domenech fears his team could be overwhelmed by a Spain side which is expected to field a first-choice lineup. Spain has not lost since a 2-0 defeat against the United States last June and is on an eight-game winning run.

"It will be difficult to find the good balance with all the injured players and the new faces I selected," admitted Domenech.

Panathinaikos striker Djibril Cisse, who scored 25 goals in all competitions this season, and Marseille winger Hatem Ben Arfa have earned recalls to France while midfielder Benoit Cheyrou and defender Mickael Ciani have received their maiden calls.

Loathed by the fans who systematically boo his name at Stade de France, Domenech will step down after the World Cup. Criticism will again fall upon him if the players underachieve against Spain, but the former Lyon coach tried to downplay the importance of the outcome.

"In 2006, we played against Slovakia at home in March and we lost 2-1," Domenech said. "It had no consequence on our preparations for the World Cup."

France, the 1998 World Cup winner, was an unexpected runner-up to Italy in 2006 after wins over Spain, Brazil and Portugal followed a very poor first round.

French federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes, a strong Domenech supporter who helped him to stay in charge after the Euro 2008 debacle, said a loss to Spain won't change his decision to stick behind the coach through the World Cup.

"Whatever happens, we are not going to bring this up again three months from the finals," Escalettes said. "A defeat against Spain won't change anything. Domenech has a goal."

France, which has claimed only 11 wins in 29 meetings with Spain but has the better record in big matches, will play its first game since a controversial playoff win over Ireland last year. France went through 2-1 on aggregate after drawing 1-1 at Stade de France thanks to Thierry Henry's hand ball in the buildup to Gallas' equalizer.

Henry's hand ball sparked a passionate public debate in France but the former Arsenal striker said he won't fear the crowd reaction.

"It was a reflex. A reflex is a reflex, and you don't think about it," Henry said at France training camp, adding he could repeat his gesture in similar circumstances. "It hasn't changed me, but I saw the true face of many people."

Henry, France's all-time leading scorer with 51 goals in 117 internationals, is likely to play despite losing his regular starting spot at Barcelona this season.

Henry has started only once for the Spanish club in the past six weeks, a position that has raised fears about his ability to perform at the World Cup.

"It's not like if I hadn't played the whole season," Henry told L'Equipe newspaper. "And even if I don't play the last games (of the season), it won't be the end of the world. The problem is when you are out of order at the beginning of a competition, which was my case in 2002 and 2006."

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque has been able to recall striker Fernando Torres, who scored for Liverpool last week after one month out with a knee injury.

"We really want to play them, especially since they knocked us out of the last World Cup," Torres said. "We are always very motivated when we play them."

France won the 1984 European Championship final against the Spaniards and beat them at both Euro 2000 and the 2006 World Cup.

Associated Press writer Patrick Desavie in Clairefontaine, France contributed to this report.

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