Mental strength crucial in Italy, says Malouda

September 6, 2007

CLAIREFONTAINE, France, Sept 6 (Reuters) - France midfielder Florent Malouda believes mental strength will be the key to victory for Les Bleus when they travel to San Siro to face Italy in a highly-anticipated Euro 2008 qualifier on Saturday.

'Italy are tactically strong, we will have to anticipate and we will have to be careful not to let them dictate the play,' Malouda said on Thursday.

'Going there for a draw is not part of France's philosophy. So we will play with clarity and commitment.'

However, Malouda warned his team mates not to fall into the trap of being provoked.

'The goal is not to provoke your opponent but that is part of the game now,' he said. 'The most important thing is how you react to provocation. We will have to be mentally strong.'

France lost the 2006 World Cup final against Italy on penalties after the game ended in a 1-1 draw.

Playmaker Zinedine Zidane, now retired, was sent off during extra time after head butting Italy defender Marco Materazzi.

The Inter Milan player, who misses Saturday's game through injury, recently admitted he had insulted Zidane's sister.

'I don't care if Materazzi plays the game or not. I don't play against Materazzi, I play against Italy,' said Malouda.

France lead qualifying Group B on 18 points from seven matches with Italy in second place two points adrift.

Les Bleus beat the Azzurri 3-1 last September in their first meeting of the qualifying campaign at the Stade de France.