Last updated : 29 May 2002 By

There seems little point in making predictions about the likely 11 to start against Senegal on 31 May. The team is so packed with star quality back to front that it is difficult to find genuine weakness in their line up. But, I do. After the retirement of Laurent Blanc into farcical ineptitude at ManUre the French have struggled to find an effective centre back partnership. The favoured stopper to partner the peerless Marcel Desailly appears to be Franck "Je suis magnifique" Leboeuf. Not everyone's idea of a safe bet at the heart of defence, but always a laugh when attacked with pace.

Apart from said slaphead, there is also the follically challenged and equally mad custodian Fabien "whooooops" Barthez. Barthez is a cert to start, but I am not alone in thinking he is lucky to be there after his deputies Gregory Coupet and Ulrich Rame had far more convincing seasons for their respective clubs Lyon and Bordeaux.

Luckily for the French the quality surrounding this pair of jokers more than makes up for their occasional ineptitude. The French are blessed with the best full backs in the world. Starting pair Thuram and Lizarazu are backed up by Roma's Candella and Munich's Sagnol. If someone finally realises that big Franck is likely to Vendez les jerseys Barcelona's Phillipe Christanval can always fill the central berth. So, options aplenty at the back.

The midfield simply makes one purr. The starting four will be anchored by the longstanding Manu and Paddy double act. The best baldy footballer ever is of course central to every attack. And I expect this tourney to be Zizou's crowning glory. The only question among all of this extravagant and sickening brilliance has been posed by the freak crocking of the begoateed Gooner Robert Pires. No one in world football can replace Pires and he will be a huge miss for the French. It is not yet clear who the fourth midfielder will be, or indeed if four traditional midfielders will line up. But the options are not too shabby. Makelele is one of the best destructive midfielders in world football at the mo, but he would present a very defensive option. Boghossian will only figure in extremis and Micoud is there as a playmaking replacement for Zidane should the unthinkable happen. Wiltord seems to be the favoured option playing on the left, but I have a sneaking fancy that this tourney could prove to be Youri Djorkaeff's swansong. Look out for the snake to make some telling contributions from the bench.

France normally start with Trezeguet through the middle and Henry roving from flank to flank. The pace of Henry and the absolute dead eye finishing of Trezeguet should worry some defences. The French currently have the top scorers from Serie A, the Premiership and the french C1. Pas mal du tout. Should Terry Henry's knee problem not clear up back up comes in the tasty form of Dugarry, Wiltord and Cisse. Goals will not be a problem.


Logic dictates that the contest in Group A is all about second place and I reckon it will be the most hotly contested place in the group stages. All three teams are capable of posing problem for France and more importantly of beating each other.

In this their debut World Cup debut Senegal would appear to just be happy to be there. But that belies the fact that they really fancy their chances. The squad is almost exclusively France based and is coached by Frenchman Bruno Metsu, so the opening match against the motherland will be the Cup Final for most of this team. African player of the year El Hadji Diouf or "serial killer" as he is dubbed by his home fans is a handful for anyone. Henri Camara and the "colourful" Khalilou Fadiga can also pose real problems for the French if they are allowed the space in behind. Other players to watch are the maurauding full back Ferdinand Coly and the excellent Salif Diao anchoring the midfield. Don't be surprised if this lot do very well, but also no surprise if they totally flop.

Morten Olsen and Brian Laudrup have perforrmed miracles in turning Denmark into genuine contenders for a knock out phase berth. There is a distinct lack of genuine star quality and that is their strength as much as their weakness. The team is a genuine unit and has a strong spine from keeper Sorensen through defenders Helveg and Laursen, midfield strongmen Gravesen and Toefting to the gifted Thomasson and high scoring Ebbe Sand. They also have pace and trickery aplenty in the wide areas through Gronkjaer, Rommedahl and our very own Pistol Pete. If anything they lack depth, and should injury befall Thomasson, who is central to their tactical thinking, they could struggle.

Uruguay are my tips for second place. The champions of 1930 and 1950 have gone through a lean time of late but the current side comes to the world cup with high hopes. Coach Victor Pua favours an expansive game revolving around the extravagantly talented Alvaro Recoba. As tradition dictates, hard men abound in this squad and in Paulo Montero and Gonzalo de los Santos they have two of the hardest men in the tournament. Goalscorer Dario Silva carries a huge weight, as his back up is flimsy and goal getting is the one real weakness in this side. But I expect them to gain the points required against Senegal and Denmark and go through with six points.