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Archive for Tuesday, June 27, 2006

France, Spain study in contrasts

June 27, 2006

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— Spain is quick, confident and eager to shed its tag as underachiever. France, full of veterans from its 1998 World Cup title, looks to dispel the impression it is too old to win.

So it's Spanish youth and ambition pitted against French experience today in the second round of the World Cup.

"The French team is good physically, so age won't be a factor, but experience might be," France defender Willy Sagnol said. "It's better to have a team crammed full of experience rather than the other way around."

Spain earned three straight wins in the first round, while France had to settle for second place in Group G with two draws before a 2-0 win against Togo.

"They ended up in second place for a reason. I don't think that it was by accident," Spain striker Fernando Torres said. "We know that it is a great team, and we have respect for them as (former) world champions, but we don't have any fear."

Between racial insults, missed penalties and individual rivalries, there are plenty of scores to settle on both sides.

Spain has never won a competitive match against France, a fact that irks the Iberians as much as their failure to win a World Cup title. And the Spaniards have not advanced past the World Cup quarterfinals since placing fourth in 1950.

Spain coach Luis Aragones dismissed suggestions his team might get increasingly anxious the higher it climbs in the tournament.

"I don't have vertigo," he said. "I think we will end up winning. The bigger the match, the less vertigo I feel."

Aragones said the key against France was to maintain possession, employing skillful midfield playmakers such as Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas.

But France coach Raymond Domenech said Spain wasn't the only team that likes to take command of the game.

"We know they like to keep the ball. Spain has always played that way," he said. "But they didn't buy the ball. They don't have a divine right to it. We can have it as well."

Many of France's 1998 veterans remain, including Lilian Thuram, Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane, who is retiring after the World Cup.

The match in Hanover will provide some less-than-cheerful reunions.

Aragones and Henry are not the best of friends after Aragones' used a racist remark in referring to the France striker while trying to motivate Jose Antonio Reyes, an Arsenal teammate of Henry.

Henry said he had put the 2004 incident behind him.

"The whole affair has been closed for me for a long time now," he said.

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