France's Defense Ready to Cut Koller Down

Published June 15th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Czech striker Jan Koller may be the biggest man at Euro 2000, but France's World Cup-winning defense reckon can cut him down to size when the two sides meet in Group D on Friday. 

France will be looking to repeat their classy 3-0 victory over Denmark, while the Euro 96 finalists need a result after their luckless 1-0 defeat to Holland. 

Koller, 2.02m tall and weighing in at 103kg, will be leading the charge. Facing him will be the likes of wily Laurent Blanc, Marcel Desailly and Lilian Thuram, a mixture of the two. 

It should certainly be a battle. Dutch defender Jaap Stam needed stitches on the touchline after a collision with Koller opened up a gash above his eye, while France's rearguard have recently suffered the occasional blackout. 

Two goals conceded to Slovenia in a 3-2 friendly win, two more in a 2-2 draw with Japan and a soft goal with reserve 'keeper Bernard Lama in a 5-1 victory over Morocco have caused a mixture of surprise and worry. 

But Blanc, who is coming off a fine season with Inter Milan, claimed that match tactics - rather than mistakes - were to blame. 

"It depends on what you want from the team," he said. 

"Either we base everything on having a solid defensive system, and make that our major strength - as we often have done in recent years, or we accept that we'll be less solid at the back in order to develop a more attacking game. 

"It's just a question of finding the right balance." 

Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit believes that France can already adapt tactics to the job in hand. 

"I think that's the very strength of this team," he said. "It's this ability to change structure during the course of a match - according to the changes in the scoreline." 

As for the more physical challenge posed by Koller, he grinned: "I think it's fair to say we have some bouncing babes at the back. And all of them have shown what they can do." 

The proof is lies in the impressive set of statistics which have accompanied France's rise in international football since the trio - plus attacking wingback Bixente Lizarazu - first appeared four years ago in Newcastle. 

In their 24 matches together since that 3-1 victory over Bulgaria at Euro 96, France have kept a clean sheet on no fewer than 17 occasions. 

For Desailly, who is likely to man-mark Koller on Friday, France's record stands by itself. "Nobody has a better defense in the world," he trumpeted. 

The Czech giant himself was equally confident, saying: "That's two matches now in which I have failed to score. So I think I will get one against France." 

The lines have been drawn, let battle commence – (AFP) 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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