France falter on home soil yet again

 

France - 0 Switzerland - 0: France are in serious danger of missing out on the 2006 World Cup finals after another lifeless display against Switzerland resulted in a third successive goalless draw at the Stade de France for Raymond Domenech's side.

The 1998 World Cup winners have drawn at home to all three of their Group Four rivals and will need to show a marked improvement on their travels - starting with Wednesday's match in Israel - if they are to take their place in Germany next summer. On Saturday the Group Four favourites created a string of chances against a youthful Swiss side, but a lack of composure in front of goal meant that the majority of the record 79,373 crowd went home frustrated.

"We're just not getting the luck," said Domenech, who continues to search for positives. "We created so many chances, but there was always a 'keeper or a defender to get in the way at the last moment."

Certainly David Trezeguet should have handed France their first home win in six attempts, but the Juventus striker, who was partnered by Sylvain Wiltord after Thierry Henry failed a fitness test, uncharacteristically squandered two huge chances.

In truth Les Bleus would scarcely have merited the victory and should be grateful to Fabien Barthez who made a string of breathtaking saves.

The Marseille goalkeeper stirred controversy last week by admitting that he did not want to go to Israel due to security fears. But the 33-year-old made two vital saves early on, first racing off his line to deny Daniel Gygax, who had eased past William Gallas, then making an acrobatic save from Philipp Degen's stinging drive.

The French lacked understanding in their attacking play but such is the quality of the players available to Domenech, they can create danger at any moment. Ludovic Giuly, Barcelona's electric winger, was at the heart of their best moves in the first half, as Trezeguet, Patrick Vieira and Wiltord all missed gilt-edged chances.

But it was the visitors who should have been ahead at the break. Alexander Frei and Gygax combined to set up Ricardo Cabanas whose low shot looked goal bound before Barthez produced his most miraculous save of the night.

The 15,000 Swiss fans were enjoying their side's tenacious display and out-sung the French throughout. Lacking inspiration from the stands, France could not count on their captain to stir them from their slumber either. Vieira, who admitted to the French media that he has been playing with an injury since October, strolled through the 90 minutes, unwilling or unable to influence proceedings.

Trezeguet should have wrapped up the points 13 minutes from time when a rare slip from young defender Philippe Senderos left him all alone in front of goal. France's second highest scorer of all-time waited for Zuberbuhler to commit himself, then hit a tame shot into the prone goalkeeper's arms.

"We had a bit of luck," admitted Switzerland coach Jakob Kuhn. "But I'm very, very happy with the performance. I'm proud of my young players. They've kept our hopes of qualification alive."

Domenech's evening improved only when journalists informed him that Israel's equaliser against Ireland had come in the dying moments. "Let's just say that I'm not too disappointed by that result," he said.

The 53-year-old now knows his team must do better away from home, but stopped short of describing Wednesday's match with co-leaders Israel as a must-win affair. "It depends on other results," he explained. "Ireland, Switzerland and Israel have shown they are capable of going away and getting points. We have to do the same."

FRANCE: Barthez, Boumsong, Gallas, Givet, Sagnol, Dhorasoo (Meriem, 59 mins), Giuly, Pedretti, Vieira, Trezeguet, Wiltord (Govou 82, mins). Subs not used: Coupet, Abidal, Diarra, Zebina, Malouda. Booked: Vieira.

SWITZERLAND: Zuberbuhler, Degen, Muller, Senderos, Cabanas, Lonfat (Huggel 29, mins), Spycher, Vogel, Ziegler (Magnin 69, mins), Frei, Gygax (Henchoz 90, mins). Subs not used: Colorti, Muff, Rey, Vonlanthen.

Referee: Massimo De Santis (Italy).