France set to start with no Henry and no guarantees

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By Patrick Vignal

SAINT-PIERRE, Reunion (Reuters) - France look set to start their matches at the World Cup with no Thierry Henry up front and no guarantee that they will restore some pride after a string of uninspired performances.

France's most prolific scorer with 51 goals from 121 caps and the team's former captain, Henry started on the bench in all three warm-up games and is expected to do the same at the June 11-July 11 finals for the 1998 winners and 2006 finalists.

The 32-year-old, who has been pushed on the fringes at Barcelona and is in the twilight of his career, said he had no problems with having lost his place up front to Nicolas Anelka.

"There's a logic in football," Henry told reporters. "Over the past four months, I have not played that much. There's a player in front of me and that's Nico. I accept that."

The other big news from France's three games before the finals was that they shelved their cautious 4-2-3-1 system, signaling their intention to play a more exciting game.

After Lassana Diarra was ruled out of the World Cup by illness, coach Raymond Domenech decided to field just one holding midfielder instead of two and go for a bolder 4-3-3 formation, a move many fans had been waiting years for.

Whether that will be enough for France, who were to reach their World Cup base at Knysna on Saturday, to recapture their old form remains doubtful.


A French renaissance was far from obvious after they slumped to a 1-0 defeat by China on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion in their final warm-up on Friday.

Domenech, however, saw positive signs.

"I think we are improving," he told reporters, judging that France had played better than in a 2-1 win over Costa Rica and a 1-1 draw in Tunisia.

"I'm not saying it was perfect, but it was better. Having lost will force us to be more careful, more inspired and to work harder."

Unlike at Euro 2008, where a miserable atmosphere marred a campaign that ended after the first round, the team appeared to bond during exotic preparations that took them to the French Alps, the shores of Tunisia and Reunion.

The controversial Domenech, who will be replaced by Laurent Blanc after the World Cup and has everything to prove there, sounded reasonably confident in his own, ironic way.

"I hope not," he told reporters when asked whether the team were ready for the finals, where they will face hosts South Africa, Mexico and Uruguay in Group A.

"It's not now that we need to be ready but when we play our first match (against Uruguay on June 11). We still have a week left to fine-tune everything."

(Editing by Jon Bramley)