‘Don’t expect miracles’, pleads French skipper Zidane

ZINEDINE ZIDANE will make an emotional return for France tonight as captain, but pleaded: “Don’t expect miracles.”

The Real Madrid star will start the Montpellier friendly against the Ivory Coast, but already has one eye on the September 7 trip to Dublin for the World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland.

And he admitted: “Ireland made a good impression on me when I saw them playing in Paris. They are not in such a strong group position for nothing. But things can change.”

Zidane was facing the press yesterday for the first time since his decision to come out of international exile for the World Cup qualifiers, and empathised with Roy Keane’s decision to do likewise.

“I know him from Champions League battles, he is a very honest, correct player. People should applaud what he has done in his career.”

Zidane said he has been wholeheartedly welcomed back into the French fold, even by the man who handed over the captain’s armband, Patrick Vieira.

“The problem for me, as a leader, is that I do not speak a lot. I am not a Didier Deschamps or a Laurent Blanc. I discussed the situation with Patrick and Raymond (Domenech), and Vieira gave me the armband. Therefore I’ll take it.”

Zidane admitted that confidence in the French camp has been dented by several below-par performances in Group 4, but insisted the players are there to turn things around. “We are not far away. Confidence is the important thing, more than anything else. I feel ready and able to contribute to that process. Otherwise I would not be here.”

Zidane said he did not expect all the jigsaw pieces to slot into place immediately, but suggested that a lot of that work will be done at the week-long training camp ahead of the clashes with the Faroe Islands and the Republic of Ireland.

The French expect to be tested by Ivory Coast, the side Thierry Henry tips as next African Champions, tonight.

“I expect a very, very difficult game,” said Henry. It will be a very good game to prepare for the Faroe Islands and the others.”

France host the Faroe Islands in Lens on September 3 before travelling to Lansdowne Road four days later. They then fly to Switzerland on October 8 and host Cyprus at the Stade de France on October 12.

Chelsea striker Didier Drogba and RC Lens forward Aruna Dindane will spearhead Ivory Coast’s attack while Thuram should start alongside Chelsea’s William Gallas in the centre of the French defence.

Henry is likely to start alone up front with Lyon’s Florent Malouda and Sylvain Wiltord on the flanks.

FRANCE: Coupet; Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Givet; Vieira, Makelele, Malouda, Zidane, Wiltord; Henry

IVORY COAST: Tizie; Zoro, Domoraud, Kolo Toure, Boka, Fae, Zokora, Kalou, Tiene; Drogba, Dindane

Referee: Paolo Bertini (Italy).

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