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August 11, 2009

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France, Germany wary of unfit players for qualifiers

FRANCE and Germany play their first World Cup qualifiers of the new season tomorrow with their players only just having returned to action for their clubs.

Visits to the Faeroe Islands and Azerbaijan would normally present few problems to the two countries, which have four World Cup titles between them, but players could be out of practice with the French and German leagues having only started last weekend.

There are also several friendlies in Europe involving the likes of the Netherlands, England and Portugal, but it is the timing of what could be five crucial World Cup qualifiers that is proving contentious.

"It's not an easy time to play this match," France coach Raymond Domenech said. "We don't know in what shape the players will be. Lots of little problems that mean this match is not easy to prepare for."

Domenech cannot afford to be complacent, especially with his side trailing leader Serbia by eight points in European Group 7.

Only the nine group winners qualify automatically for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, with the eight best runners-up entering playoffs for four more places.

"The Faeroe Islands defend well," Domenech said. "These games are never easy."

With Russia just a point further back in Group 4, Germany needs a win at Azerbaijan to make life more comfortable. Russia hosts Argentina in a friendly, with coach Guus Hiddink expecting to be without Yuri Zhirkov and Vladimir Bystrov because of injury.

The other World Cup qualifiers feature Croatia at Belarus, San Marino at Slovenia and Scotland is at Norway, with the latter pair among those squabbling for second place in Group 9 behind the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is the only European nation so far to secure a spot and hosts England in a friendly in Amsterdam. England is itself on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup and, with the Premier League set to start on Saturday, appears to be treating the game lightly.

"The lads will be treating it as another preseason game," England right-back Glen Johnson said. "We'll be taking it as a friendly."

Estonia plays record five-time World Cup holder Brazil, which leads South American qualifying, while current champion Italy meets Switzerland in Basel.

World player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo should be in action when Portugal plays Liechtenstein at the 6,000-capacity Rheinpark Stadium in Vaduz. It is Portugal's final warm-up before two crucial away matches in its faltering World Cup qualifying campaign next month.


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