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Euro 2004

Switzerland vs. France

0:50 MSK
4:50 pm EST

BY JEROME PUGMIRE
Associated Press
Jun. 20, 2004 5:07 a.m.

PORTO, Portugal (AP)— Jacques Santini has no doubt France will qualify for the quarterfinals when it faces Switzerland in its final Euro 2004 group B match.

"The players always respond present at big matches, that is a positive sign," coach Santini said ahead of Monday's game in Coimbra. Les Bleus need only a point against last-placed Switzerland to reach the last eight.

The defending champion struggled in its opening two games, twice coming from behind to secure a 2-1 win over England and a 2-2 draw against Croatia. Santini puts his team's indifferent start down to "fatigue and lassitude."

"We're only at 80 percent of our capacity, but we will get stronger," he said.

Switzerland's slim chances of qualifying may be reduced further still, as striker Alexander Frei could be suspended.

UEFA opened disciplinary proceedings against Frei on Saturday for spitting at England midfielder Steven Gerrard in 3-0 loss earlier in the week.

Frei was scheduled to face a hearing of UEFA's control and disciplinary committee Sunday at 1200 GMT in Lisbon. If guilty, he could find himself suspended. The Swiss need a large win to have any chance of making the quarters and badly need Frei, who notched 18 league goals for Rennes last season.

With one point so far and having finished both group games with 10 men, the Swiss should not pose too great a threat. Nevertheless, the French remain wary.

"Switzerland are not inferior to anyone," said striker Thierry Henry. "They played well against England. With a bit more luck, they could have scored early against England. It was very close and at 11 against 11 I though they played very well."

So far, Bernt Haas and Johan Vogel have been sent off for the Swiss. But in both matches, the team showed flashes of skill and could trouble the suspect French defense.

"Maybe we are relaxing too much in defense. At international level you get punished," said defender Mikael Silvestre, who has given away two penalties so far in the tournament.

Silvestre, who plays for Manchester United, has doubts the French can control a match following awkward showings against Croatia and England.

"We don't know how to hold onto a lead," he said. "We are a team which knows only to go forward."

Midfielder Patrick Vieira, who is set to win his 72nd cap on Monday, is also circumspect.

"Allowing three goals in two games makes us ask ourselves questions," the Arsenal captain said. "We want to sort this out. The danger is when we lose a bit of concentration."

France, which is unbeaten in 20 games dating back to February, 2003, headed into the tournament without allowing a goal in 11 matches. Against a spirited Croatia the defense conceded twice in four second-half minutes.

"I don't think we're overrated," said Vieira. "But we can play better, that is for sure. We must do so to win the Euro."

France followed up its 1998 World Cup win with victory at Euro 2000 - becoming the first side to win both competitions in succession.

Although unbeaten in 16 months, France is still some way off the mark it set almost a decade ago. Between February 16, 1994 and October 9, 1996 the team did not lose in 30 games.

"It's normal that people expect more from the French team," Vieira said.

Henry, who is scoreless in five games for France, urged his teammates to step up their performance on Monday.

"We have had two games in adversity, we could have found ourselves with zero points. Now it's time to move on," he said. "Our goals have not come from nice moves. We need to show our true colors."

Meanwhile, Trezeguet needs one more goal to pull level with French legend Just Fontaine and Jean-Pierre Papin with 30 strikes.

Should he score Monday, only Michel Platini with 41 would have scored more.

"It means a lot to have the same number of goals as players like him and Fontaine. It shows I have been consistent," Trezeguet said.

Santini has one minor injury worry as Chelsea midfielder Claude Makelele is still troubled by a blow to the collarbone sustained against England. Roma's Olivier Dacourt or Marseille's Benoit Pedretti could start in his place.

France beat Switzerland 2-0 in a friendly in August on goals from Sylvain Wiltord and Steve Marlet.


Posted on Jun 20, 04 | 10:20 pm

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