Preview: France vs. Brazil
France coach Laurent Blanc has decided against recalling Manchester United defender Patrice Evra for next week's friendly match against Brazil at Stade de France, but says the decision is based purely on form.
Evra has completed a five-game ban for his part in France's training ground strike at the last World Cup, but Blanc chose Barcelona's Eric Abidal and Arsenal's Gael Clichy. Clichy's club teammate Laurent Koscielny received a first callup.
French sports minister Chantal Jouanno recently said Evra should not play for France again because of his behavior as captain in South Africa.
"It is a sporting choice, and only a sporting choice," Blanc said Thursday, citing Abidal's excellent recent form for Barca. "There is a lot of competition for places in that position."
Blanc also said Clichy "was on the right track" to becoming the solid and consistent defender he is looking for, rather than just an attacking threat down the left flank. Blanc had been sharply critical of Clichy before the friendly against England in November, but says he has improved since.
Koscielny's good recent form prompted the call up, Blanc said, adding that Koscielny gives France an added goal threat because of his heading ability. He scored the winner in Tuesday night's 2-1 win over Everton with a header from a corner.
Evra has been in good form this season for United, which leads the Premier League and has yet to lose a league game.
"The door is not closed for anyone," Blanc said, when asked if Evra could return in the future. "Patrice Evra's suspension is over, so he is available again. It's perhaps the position where we probably have the most competition, players who are playing in very, very big clubs."
Jouanno said the World Cup rebels put France to shame and had stained the national jersey. Evra, France's captain at the time, led the squad to boycott a training session in support of their teammate Nicolas Anelka, who had been sent home for insulting former coach Raymond Domenech.
The strike took place in front of the nation's press, prompting outrage among fans and politicians back home.
"There are values and the French federation should defend them," Jouanno said last week, recalling the episode. "I have nothing against Evra, but as a France player - and above all as the captain - he didn't defend the values of sport. It would be a huge mistake to forget what happened."
Blanc, however, said the page has been turned and he did not accept such trenchant views.
"You should always be wary of having such marked views. I am not inclined to this way of thinking," he said. "We all know their behavior - and not just Patrice Evra, but the 23 players who were there - was bad. But the suspensions have been served."
Blanc says he hopes to talk to Jouanno soon.
"I know she has been trying to reach me, we haven't been able to talk together yet," Blanc said. "God knows, I meet a people in the road who have a lot of views which are not necessarily the same as mine. We're in a democracy."
Blanc kept faith with Yoann Gourcuff, even though the playmaker has been in poor form for Lyon since joining from Bordeaux, and called up Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby even though he has hardly played in the last two months.
Blanc said it was important to support Gourcuff, whose confidence has been low since the World Cup.
Diaby as a straight swap for his club teammate Samir Nasri, who is injured. Forward Jeremy Menez is also back in the squad after some fine recent performances for AS Roma.
"Everyone wants to play against Brazil, there will be some who are satisfied, some who are disappointed," Blanc said. "It shows that they want to be part of the project we are building."
France has won its last three 2012 European Championship qualifying matches and sits top of its qualifying group. Blanc hopes the Brazil match will give further signs that his team is progressing.
"Brazil is one of the two best teams in the world, so it will be very difficult," Blanc said.
Blanc has still not decided on who his long-term captain will be, with no guarantees that Bordeaux midfielder Alou Diarra will keep the armband over the next few months.
Goalkeepers: Cedric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille).
Defenders: Eric Abidal (Barcelona), Gael Clichy (Arsenal), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Philippe Mexes (AS Roma), Adil Rami (Lille), Anthony Reveillere (Lyon), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Mamadou Sakho (Paris Saint-Germain).
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (Lille), Abou Diaby (Arsenal), Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Yoann Gourcuff (Lyon), Yann M'Vila (Rennes), Blaise Matuidi (Saint-Etienne), Florent Malouda (Chelsea).
Forwards: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kevin Gameiro (Lorient), Guillaume Hoarau (Paris Saint-Germain), Jeremy Menez (AS Roma), Loic Remy (Marseille).
Goalkeeper Julio Cesar was named Tuesday in a Brazil squad for the first time since last year's World Cup in South Africa.
New coach Mano Menezes announced the squad for a friendly against France in Paris on Feb. 9. Though Juilo Cesar is being given a fresh look, other members of the disappointing World Cup squad like Lucio and Maicon remain on the sideline.
The squad consists entirely of players with clubs in Europe. Menezes said local players needed training time for upcoming state tournaments in Brazil. He also passed over young star Neymar, who is playing in the South America qualifying tournament for the Under-20 World Cup.
Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Inter Milan), Gomes (Tottenham), Neto (Fiorentina)
Defenders: Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Rafael (Manchester United), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Andre Santos (Fenerbahce), Breno (Bayern Munich), David Luiz (Benfica), Thiago Silva (AC Milan), Luizao (Benfica).
Midfielders: Lucas (Liverpool), Ramires (Chelsea), Sandro (Tottenham), Elias (Atletico Madrid), Hernanes (Lazio), Anderson (Manchester United), Renato Augusto (Bayern Leverkusen), Jadson (Shakhtar).
Forwards: Robinho (Milan), Alexandre Pato (Milan), Andre (Dynamo Kiev), Hulk (Porto).