European World Cup flops look to bright new dawn

Paris: France and England had World Cup campaigns to forget and tomorrow both set out on what they hope is the first step in restoring their battered images in friendlies against Norway and Hungary respectively.

Another European giant, Italy, are also in action, facing Ivory Coast today in what is new coach Cesare Prandelli`s first match in charge following their humiliating title defence in South Africa, bowing out bottom of their group.

The two finalists are also in action with world champions Spain travelling to the United States to play Mexico while the Dutch will also be hoping to salvage their reputation after the over-physical strategy they deployed against the Spanish in a dour World Cup final.

However, the Dutch have just one squad member from the World Cup travelling to meet Ukraine.

Argentina, still managerless after Diego Maradona was forced out, meanwhile take on Ireland in Dublin.

It is France, however, who have the most to make up after a catastrophic and farcical appearance in South Africa which saw Nicolas Anelka sent home for a foul mouthed outburst at coach Raymond Domenech, a players strike because of that punishment and then Domenech`s sullen refusal to shake South African coach Carlos Alberto Parreira`s hand after their final match.

Domenech`s successor Laurent Blanc has the chance to erase memories of that hapless campaign and the iconic 1998 World Cup winning defender has moved quickly by leaving out all of that squad from the one to take on Norway in Oslo.

"What happened in South Africa cannot be rubbed out," said Blanc.

"It is a scar. But if we`re going to sanction players, take disciplinary action against them, then I think you have to be very careful.”

"I became coach to achieve one objective and I hope I will have all the forces at my disposal. It is important that we don`t shoot ourselves in the foot before trying to reach our objective, which is Euro 2012.

"There is only one way that we can erase the memory of South Africa and that is winning."

Blanc, who has not ruled out a recall for Anelka in the future, has been able to revive the international careers of some of those left out of the World Cup squad such as AS Roma defender Philippe Mexes and Arsenal midfielder Sami Nasri.

Mexes has often failed to replicate his club form for his country but Blanc said he had had a chat with him and laid it on the line to him that this was a golden opportunity to prove himself on the international stage.

"I told him (Mexes), `the train has passed once. Make sure you climb on board if it comes by a second time`," said Blanc.

England at least scrambled out of their group only to be humiliated 4-1 by Germany and were not without dressing room discord but former captain John Terry`s declaration that he would be leading a mutiny against coach Fabio Capello ended in ridicule for the Chelsea defender as he was left marooned by his so-called `angry` teammates.

Yet Capello has as much to prove from now on as Terry as once unquestioned fawning over the Italian has given way to deep scepticism from all corners. Many observers believe that had he not signed a new contract prior to the World Cup finals he would have been sacked.

Capello himself has accepted as much.

"I would have understood if the FA decided to sack me. This is not a good period for me but I am looking forward. It is our job. When you win you are the best and when you lose, nothing," Capello said.

The former AC Milan, AS Roma and Real Madrid coach has selected Arsenal youngsters Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs in his squad and ditched players such as Shaun Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon.

Friendly matches usually count for little but for the French and the English they will feel like the most important matches of the year - a chance to start back on the road to redemption.


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