France look to end qualifying hoodoo

A DETERMINED Switzerland will try to prevent France completing their first successful World Cup qualifying campaign in 20 years on Saturday.

Victory in Bern for Raymond Domenech's injury-hit French team will secure them top spot in Group Four after a four-way qualifying tussle with the Swiss, Israel and the Republic of Ireland.

France failed to qualify for the 1990 and 1994 World Cups and participated in the 1998 and 2002 competitions as hosts and holders respectively.

France are without top strikers, Juventus's David Trezeguet and Arsenal's Thierry Henry, due to injury.

In their absence Domenech will probably turn to Djibril Cisse of Liverpool and reliable Olympique Lyon winger Sylvain Wiltord.

"We are without our best two marksmen. I can assume that we are going to score less goals," Domenech said. "But there are several versatile and gifted players in this squad. I am not worried."

Defender Willy Sagnol is suspended and Anthony Reveillere, who has won only two caps in the last two years, will play at right-back.

Domenech's main concern is over playmaker Zinedine Zidane who is recovering from a groin injury.

The inspirational number 10 has played only 30 minutes for his club Real Madrid over the last three weeks and he missed training sessions with France on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"It would have been annoying if he had not played at all," said Domenech. "At least we know a little bit more about his injury."

France have yet to lose a match since Domenech was appointed in July 2004.

Switzerland can guarantee their progression with a win on Saturday so long as Ireland fail to win away to Cyprus earlier in the day.

The Swiss are unbeaten since Euro 2004 with their last defeat coming against the French in their final group game in Portugal.

"The key to our success will be our togetherness," coach Kobi Kuhn said. "We will have to be compact, blocking France out and giving them as little space as possible.

"There's nothing new in that, of course, but when you are playing a team with as many individual talents as France it's more essential than ever."

Aside from the absence through injury of playmaker Hakan Yakin, the Swiss will be at full strength.

Grasshoppers captain Ricardo Cabanas is likely to deputise for Yakin with Rennes striker Alex Frei leading the Swiss attack, probably assisted by 19-year-old Breda forward Johan Vonlanthen.

Frei, who has scored in Switzerland's last five matches and boasts an impressive overall record of 22 goals from 38 international starts, will need no introduction to the visitors having finished last season as top scorer in France's Ligue 1.

Probable teams: Switzerland: Zuberbuehler, Spycher, Mueller, Senderos, Degen, Wicky, Cabanas, Vogel, Barnetta, Vonlanthen, Frei

France: Coupet; Reveillere, Thuram, Boumsong, Gallas; Makelele, Vieira, Malouda, Zidane; Wiltord, Cisse

Referee: Terje Hauge (Norway)

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