Class of '98 comes of age

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PARIS, August 4 – The class of 98, France's World Cup-winning vintage, is coming of age for a second time ahead of the new French season, as Didier Deschamps looks to put one over Laurent Blanc in the title race.FRANCE_98Blanc led Bordeaux to glory last season as the southwestern outfit ended Lyon’s seven-year stranglehold on the championship to reignite interest in a domestic competition which had become stale.

With Deschamps now in the Marseille hotseat having taken over from Belgian Eric Gerets, the Mediterranean club will be gunning for a return to the big time 17 years on from their last crown.

Although Lyon are determined to reassert their supremacy and Paris St Germain are equally bent on giving fans in the capital something to savour after several mediocre campaigns, it is the Blanc-v-Deschamps battle which stands out as potentially the most appetising subplot.

"Dédé," as Deschamps is known in French footballing circles, is certainly no stranger to "Lolo" Blanc, as both the tigerish midfielder and classy centre back were mainstays of the French squad which was to sweep aside Brazil in the 1998 World Cup final.

Blanc missed the final after being unjustly sent off in the semi-final win over Croatia having scored the second round winner against Paraguay.

The pair won exactly 200 international caps between them – 103 for Deschamps, 97 for Blanc – and in many respects their playing careers mirrored each other’s.

Both starred as France lifted the Euro 2000 trophy and at club level, too, they forged similar paths, starting out with provincial clubs.

Blanc, born at Ales some 150km north west of Marseille, began with local side Montpellier whereas Deschamps, born just south of Bordeaux in the Basque town of Bayonne, shot to early prominence at Nantes.BLANC

Blanc soon moved over the border to join Napoli for a season – just as Deschamps was trying to find finding his feet at Marseille.

Neither move really worked out and while Blanc headed back to France with Nimes, Deschamps decided on a spell with Bordeaux.

Deschamps swiftly returned to Marseille, where he promptly starred in France’s only European Cup success to date, the 1993 win over AC Milan.

But itchy feet took Blanc to Barcelona and then Inter Milan – interspersed with two years, naturally, with Marseille, before an Indian summer with Manchester United, while Deschamps enjoyed five years with Juventus, where he again won the Champions League.

He then wound down his career with short spells at Chelsea and finally Valencia in Spain.

Now both men patrol the touchline and Deschamps, following a frenzied summer of recruitment, is determined to bump his former international buddy off top spot.

"We’ve a lot of work on if we want to compete for the title," says Deschamps, who won two crowns with Marseille as a player and three more with Juve.

DESCHAMPSWith Bordeaux having edged a pre-season friendly 2-1, Deschamps added: "The team is starting to bond and we are coming on both athletically and technically.

"Yet one feels that Bordeaux have a team which is well bedded down, having a season behind them – that explains the difference."

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