Zidane hopes France get tough draw
Zinedine Zidane hopes France will be handed a difficult group in Friday's World Cup draw as he feels Les Bleus could take less renowned opponents too lightly.
During the rehearsal draw on Thursday, Didier Deschamps' men were picked with hosts Brazil, 2006 winners Italy -- who beat Les Bleus in that year's final -- and Australia.
Zidane, 41, told media at a news conference that when he and seven other illustrious football figures make the draw proper on Friday in Costa do Sauipe, he wants his country to face an equally hazardous path to the knockout stages.
"There's never a good draw," he said. "What I would like for France is that they go into a difficult group so that they don't say to themselves 'we're going to play small teams', but rather 'we have to get out of this group.' They need to be in an all-conquering spirit from the start of the competition. Perhaps for other teams it would not be the case, but for France, it would be good."
The front page of Friday's L'Equipe shows the potential worst and best-case scenarios for France, who only clinched their place in the finals after a dramatic playoff triumph over Ukraine.
The 'worst' group, according to France's main sports daily would include the hosts, Japan and the Netherlands, though Zidane's former international teammate and fellow 1998 World Cup-winner Frank Leboeuf said his nation should welcome the chance to face the Brazilians in the early stages of the tournament.
"I would like France to play Brazil," he told RMC. "At least then they would only have to play them again in the final if we get there. It's better to get them in a group game than in a knockout match. Having said that, playing them in the first game or the third game in the group isn't the same thing either. Anyway, after the draw, everyone will say that it's a difficult draw."
Zidane scored two goals in the '98 final as the host nation beat Brazil 3-0 in Paris. Despite him breaking Brazilian hearts that night, Zidane says he is always made to feel welcome whenever he visits.
"The 1998 World Cup is one of the sweetest memories of my life, but I do not believe that the Brazilians hate me," he said. "Every time I come to Brazil they greet me with a lot of affection."
Like France, Portugal only qualified for next year's tournament via a playoff, in which Cristiano Ronaldo's second-leg hat trick proved decisive in their tie against Sweden. Zidane believes that Ronaldo, who he works with at Real Madrid, can light up the competition.
"What he does on the pitch is monstrous," Zidane said. "It is marvellous. And the way he led Portugal against Sweden, when many people believed that Portugal would not win, that showed he is an excellent player. He is an example for all who train with him. He is a great professional."