Gignac ready to take his chance in France team

KNYSNA, South Africa (AP) — France striker Andre-Pierre Gignac appreciates just how much it means to be at the World Cup after clawing his way back from the obscurity of French soccer's lower leagues.

When France was playing in the World Cup final four years ago, Gignac found himself "in a state of stress" because he didn't know whether he would get a contract at unheralded Lorient after it loaned him to lowly Pau in the third division.

Now the 24-year-old Toulouse forward is challenging Nicolas Anelka for a place in coach Raymond Domenech's team for Friday's opening group game against Uruguay.

Gignac said the vivid memories of playing in front of a handful of fans in rickety stadiums fuel his desire to succeed at the World Cup.

"I experienced hard times when it was tough to make ends meet at the end of the month," Gignac said. "I was playing in the third division four years ago, so it's just a pleasure to be here. It's something which motivates me every day."

Gignac is now valued at around $18 million by his club, an unimaginable sum four years ago.

Lorient was chasing promotion to the first division and did want Gignac, who made just one substitute appearance before going to Pau in January, 2006. He scored eight goals in 20 games, but did not know if he had done enough to persuade Lorient — now promoted — to give him another chance.

"After six months at Pau, I didn't know what I was going to do, whether Lorient were going to take me back and offer me a contract," he said. "I was in a state of stress. That's why I get so much pleasure from being at the World Cup."

With Anelka failing to impress in France's three World Cup warmup matches, Gignac may get his chance against Uruguay.

A robust forward, Gignac mixes a delicate touch with brute power and an instinctive ability to shoot from almost anywhere. His ability to improvise and to play back to goal means he is somewhat similar, although far less polished, to Manchester United and England striker Wayne Rooney.

Gignac is the same age as Rooney, but his trajectory has been totally different.

Lorient gave Gignac the contract, and he scored a hat trick against Nantes on his full debut in the 2006-07 season, with one goal — an angled shot into the top corner from 25 yards (meters) — catching Domenech's eye.

Domenech spoke highly of Gignac's audacity after he played just a few matches in division one.

"I never doubt, that's my quality," Gignac said. "I will take anything I can get. Even if it's five or 10 minutes here or there, as long as I am in the forward line."

Gignac has scored four goals in 13 international matches. He set up winger Franck Ribery's winning goal six minutes after coming on as a substitute for his debut against Lithuania in a World Cup qualifier a little more than a year ago.

Domenech admires players like Gignac, Franck Ribery and Mathieu Valbuena, who have kept their rough edge because they know what life is like outside of soccer's rich trappings.

Ribery and Valbuena both played semiprofessional soccer early in their careers.

Gignac, who grew up in a large family of gypsy travelers, hates the way critics like former France defender Marcel Desailly are lining up to take a swipe at the team.

"We will shut a few people up. I think it's fashionable to knock the French team at the moment," he said. "We can do without tensions within the squad. It's not in the squad's interests, and I hope everyone knows that."