France and Italy go east on a losing note

 

Zinedine Zidane skipped the French squad's flight out of Paris yesterday after the birth of his third son on Saturday night.

The world's most expensive player also missed the World Cup holders' disappointing send-off at the Stade de France, where they were beaten 2-1 by their fellow finalists Belgium. France had not lost a match at Saint-Denis since June 1999, when Russia won a Euro 2000 qualifier 3-2.

Glen de Boeck's header opened the scoring for the Red Devils in the 20th minute, but a Timmy Simons own goal levelled matters before half-time.

Youri Djorkaeff and Johan Micoud alternated in Zidane's midfield role and Auxerre's hot property, striker Djibril Cisse, made his debut as a second-half replacement, but it was Belgium who scored the winner in injury-time through Mark Wilmots of Bordeaux.

Ulrich Rame played in goal for France as Fabien Barthez was suffering from a slight throat infection and Thierry Henry rested a painful knee.

Italy fared even worse, losing 1-0 to the Czech Republic in Prague, a defeat that served to underline the importance of Francesco Totti, who is nursing an ankle injury.

Coach Giovanni Trapattoni did not mince his words afterwards. "This result throws shadows and questions," he said, although he said he thought the players might be still recovering from an onerous Serie A season.

Leeds defender Lucas Radebe has been named in South Africa's squad to play Scotland in a friendly in Hong Kong tomorrow despite having missed a year of first-team football.

"He is a leader and brought some confidence into the team as soon as he started training," said the manager, Stanley Tshabalala.

Spain's first-choice goalkeeper Santiago Canizares is out of the World Cup after dropping a bottle of cologne on his foot, cutting a tendon with a shard of glass.

Meanwhile Sweden midfielder Markus Allback, 29, has signed for Aston Villa for £2m from the Dutch side Heerenveen on a three-year contract.

The Nigeria coach Festus Adegboye Onigbinde named his 23-man World Cup squad yesterday, the day after his side's 1-0 win against Jamaica in London.

As expected there was no place for Borussia Dortmund's Sunday Oliseh or Finidi George, both of whom played in the disappointing African Nations Cup campaign earlier this year in Mali.

Onigbinde, when he took over from the sacked Shaibu Amodu after the African Nations Cup, threatened to purge some of the old guard and former captain Oliseh, who plays for German champions Borussia Dortmund is the chief victim.

The majority of the squad play in Europe, including Arsenal striker Nwankwo Kanu, Chelsea's Celestine Babyaro and Jay-Jay Okocha of Paris St Germain. Taribo West, who was recently released by German club Kaiserslautern, is also included.

Shakhtar Donetsk striker Julius Aghahowa, scorer of two goals against Scotland in April and one against the Republic of Ireland last Thursday, is included while Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder James Obiorah was rewarded for his winner against Jamaica on Saturday with a place in the squad.