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France and Brazil on rebuilding curve

PARIS, February 8 – France's friendly with Brazil on Wednesday inevitably rekindles memories of the 1998 World Cup, but there will be no time for reflection as the two teams bid to move on from recent disappointments.

Having limped out of last year’s World Cup in underwhelming fashion, both sides will be seeking to sustain the precious momentum that they have managed to generate in the months since.

France have undergone a rapid transformation under Laurent Blanc and ended 2010 with an assured 2-1 win over England at Wembley, which would have been unthinkable amid the trauma of their group-phase exit in South Africa.

Mano Menezes, meanwhile, has sought to re-calibrate Brazil’s approach along more attacking lines since succeeding the much maligned Dunga as coach.

It may be a work in progress — Brazil lost 1-0 to arch-rivals Argentina in their last outing — but France winger Florent Malouda still feels the five-time world champions are the standard-bearers.

"Brazil are a great football nation," Malouda told French daily L’Equipe this week.

"You only have to look at the number of (World Cup) stars on their shirts. We’d love to be like them.

"So for us they’re a point of reference at the global level. We’ll play this match with ambition and we’ll play to win."

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Malouda is likely to find himself in a re-configured French attack, after attacking midfielders Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery and Mathieu Valbuena were all ruled out by injury.

Blanc has regularly preached the virtues of stability within the national squad and the only surprise in the 23-man list he announced for the game was the non-selection of Patrice Evra.

The Manchester United man has fallen behind Barcelona’s Eric Abidal in the left-back pecking order and Blanc insisted Evra’s omission was unrelated to his role as captain in the infamous World Cup strike.

Menezes named a squad of purely Europe-based players and there was thus no place for livewire Santos forward Neymar, who is currently lighting up the Under-20 South American championship in Peru.

Stalwarts from the side that lost to the Netherlands in the World Cup quarter-finals, such as centre-back Lucio, Real Madrid playmaker Kaka and striker Luis Fabiano, have also been overlooked.

Inter Milan goalkeeper Julio Cesar returns after a series of niggling injuries, however, and is set to make his first international appearance since the 2-1 loss to the Dutch in Port Elizabeth.

Pursuing a long-term strategy with a view towards the 2014 World Cup on home soil, Menezes named five uncapped players in his squad, including Bayern Munich centre-back Breno and Manchester United right-back Rafael da Silva.

With Kaka short of fitness following a spell on the sidelines and Ronaldinho trying to rebuild his career in Brazil with Flamengo, Menezes concedes that he is looking for his youngsters to stamp their style on the team.

"We are looking for players who occupy the role of playmaker," he said.

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"Since the first get-together (after the World Cup), we have had a core of eight or nine players."

Wednesday’s game will see the teams reconvene at the Stade France a few months shy of 13 years after France ended their long wait for a World Cup title with a 3-0 victory over Brazil in the 1998 final.

A frustrated onlooker that day due to suspension, former national team centre-back Blanc says France cannot afford to be cowed by Brazil’s reputation.

"It’s very important not to lose (the ball) easily because they’re a team capable of taking it from you and unfortunately not giving it back to you until much later," he said.

"But our philosophy will stay the same against Brazil. We’ll try to see what we’re capable of doing against one of the best teams at this level.

"It will be the ultimate test."

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