Kiwis need miracle against France

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Kiwis will need a miracle to topple already-qualified France in Sunday's final Group A match in the Confederations Cup.

Updated: February 25, 2007 09:48 IST
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A TV commentator dubbed New Zealand's goal in its 3-1 Confederations Cup defeat to Colombia "the miracle of the century." Harsh words – but the Kiwis will surely need another one to topple already-qualified France in Sunday's final Group A match at Stade de France. Already eliminated from the Cup, the All Whites will be playing for pride against reigning European champion France, and praying the host is in a lenient mood. Don't count on it, said French coach Jacques Santini. "We will have the most competitive lineup possible," he said. "Every game is important for France," he added. France will have to do without suspended Bayern Munich defender Willy Sagnol and injured Monaco midfielder Jerome Rothen. France has little at stake, as it is already through to next Thursday's semifinals following Sidney Govou's sweetly struck winner in Friday's scrappy 2-1 win over Japan. Although Santini fielded an experimental lineup against Japan, the manner in which the Asians dominated at times will have French fans calling for an immediate return to form – and a bucket load of goals against the Kiwis. Big difference The two sides – meeting for the first time in an international match – are miles apart geographically, but also in a sporting sense. France has participated in 11 World Cups, winning in 1998, while New Zealand has graced soccer's biggest stage only once – losing all three games and conceding 12 goals in 1982. France has played 11 matches, winning nine times, since the debacle of its first round exit at last year's World Cup. Hardly a crisis, despite critics already sharpening their knives with the European Championships still a year away. New Zealand, in comparison, has played only four – losing three and drawing with Scotland – in the last eight months. New Zealand boasts just one professional club. The flourishing French league provides a factory-line of talent to Europe's top clubs. Tough challenge Yet pride will drive the Kiwis to give a good effort in their last Cup appearance in front of 78,000 fans. It might even offer side benefits with the summer transfer season heating up. Brazil star Ronaldinho would surely echo that sentiment. He caught the world's eye in Mexico in 1999 when, as a teenager, he was the Confederations Cup top-scorer with six goals – alerting a string of big clubs to his talent. Santini will make several changes for Sunday's match, if only because France did not escape unscathed against Japan, and injury doubts linger over several players. Another absentee will be goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, who could have been forgiven for having his mind on other things when beaten all-ends-up by Shunsuke Nakamura's stinging free-kick Friday. Barthez's wife is expecting a baby – but the Manchester United goalie is to return for the semifinal. (AP)

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