FFF rally round under-fire coach Domenech

September 8, 2008

French football chief Noel Le Graet has urged the country's fans and media to give under-pressure coach Raymond Domenech and his team a break ahead of Wednesday's World Cup qualifying match against Serbia.

Many are predicting Domenech, who has been at the helm since the summer of 2004, will be fired if Les Bleus do not claim three points in the Group Seven game at the Stade de France.

They began their qualifying campaign with a 3-1 defeat in Austria on Saturday and Domenech, who is already feeling the heat following France's poor display at Euro 2008, has faced a barrage of criticism ever since.

French Football Federation (FFF) president Jean-Pierre Escalettes was quick to back Domenech after the loss in Vienna, which came about mainly because of individual errors in defence.

Now Le Graet, the FFF's vice-president, has also come out in defence of the coach, firing a broadside at the team's critics.

"We are getting the feeling that everyone is waiting to see what is going to happen to Domenech, since there is an important match against Serbia on Wednesday,'' he said.

"People are coming to see Domenech's head roll more than to watch a match. That is not right.

"Les Bleus weren't as bad (on Saturday) as has been written or said. Technically, the team is strong; we just committed some defensive errors. It isn't a disaster.

"The squad is very healthy and the players are very together. They want to do well. Some important players have gone. And you can't expect us to become a team capable of playing in a World Cup final just like that.''

It is thought the FFF want a minimum points return of five from the team's first three World Cup qualifiers.

That therefore means France need to beat both Serbia this week and Romania in October for Domenech to survive the chop.

He will have to do something about his creaky defence if Les Bleus are to turn things around.

The lightweight central-defensive duo of William Gallas and Philippe Mexes have conceded five goals in two games since the Euros, and they could not cope with gangly Austria striker Marc Janko on Saturday.

Mexes lost Janko for the first Austrian goal at the Ernst Happel Stadion, and then clumsily hauled down the Red Bull Salzburg beanpole in the area to concede a penalty which Andreas Ivanschitz converted to kill the game off at 3-1.

There could be more misery for Mexes if he somehow retains his place in the team for Wednesday - in Nikola Zigic, the Serbs have a striker who is dominant in the air and who could have a field day in Paris.

Serbia are sure to bombard the French with long balls and maybe Sebastien Squillaci would be better suited to dealing with them than Mexes, whose technical abilities are failing to make up for his weakness in the air and lack of concentration.

Mexes admits he must shouler some of the blame for France's current plight.

"The coach in danger? It is the media that's saying that,'' Mexes said. "He has our confidence. We aren't worried within the squad.

"The coach cannot be blamed for Saturday's match. It is more my fault than his. Without my two errors, the result would have been better. I will assume the consequences.''

The French, back at their headquarters in Clairefontaine, a village just south of Paris, trained behind closed doors on Monday.

Domenech has to decide whether to recall left-back Eric Abidal to his side on Wednesday.

The Barcelona defender is available again after serving his two-match suspension following his sending-off against Italy in the Euros.

On that day, Abidal played out of position at centre-back and was cruelly exposed by another tall frontman, Luca Toni.

But with Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra one of the few successes against Austria, Domenech may again choose to play Abidal in the centre.