France could upset odds and win World Cup: Vieira

Johannesburg: French World Cup winner Patrick Vieira on Thursday predicted troubled France could spring a surprise in South Africa, saying the pressure on the squad would bring them together.

Since their arrival at their heavily criticised five-star luxury hideout in Knysna on Saturday the 1998 world champions and 2006 beaten finalists have conducted all but the first 15 minutes of their training sessions in private.

France go into their opener against Uruguay on Friday knowing nothing but victory will restore faith in their ability to make an impact after a string of underwhelming performances in friendlies including defeat to China.

Coach Raymond Domenech, who is widely disliked in France and will be replaced by former skipper Laurent Blanc after the tournament, has played down his squad`s troubled build-up to the South African showpiece.

But Vieira, who failed to make the squad and was annoyed that Domenech had not phoned him prior to the announcement, is confident the French can put their troubles behind them.

"France have always been criticised before big tournaments like the World Cup. It was like that in 98, it was like that in 2002, it was like that in 2006 and it`s nothing new, I`m not surprised," said the Manchester City player.

"I really strongly believe that France are good enough to win the World Cup even if they haven`t played well in the first few games, the friendlies they`ve had."

Speaking about under-pressure Domenech, Vieira said: "The manager has been criticised for a long time and there`s nothing new about that but I think what`s important is for them to get focused on the game."

Vieira said France`s strength was that they had so many players who could make a difference and turn games, adding: "That`s why they have to believe they can go and win it because they`ve got the quality there."

The former Arsenal and Inter Milan star picked out Franck Ribery as a key man and said Thierry Henry, the sole survivor from the 1998 World Cup-winning squad, still had a crucial role to play despite falling out of favour at Barcelona.

"It`s hard to pick out one player who`ll be really important for the team. I would say Franck Ribery because in 2006 he was fantastic and I think he will be important for the French team," he said.

"Henry is still Henry. He`s got the talent, he`s got the experience and Thierry is one of the players who can win games by himself."

Bureau Report