Saha named in French Euro 2004 squad
CLAIREFONTAINE, France, May 18 (Reuters) - England-based strikers Louis Saha and Sylvain Wiltord were celebrating as France coach Jacques Santini unveiled his 23-man squad for next month's Euro 2004 finals on Tuesday.
Santini opted for Manchester United's Saha and Wiltord of Arsenal as back-up for automatic first choices Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet.
The biggest suprise, however, came in Santini's timing.
He made his announcement well before UEFA deadline of June 2, breaking with the tradition set by predecessors Aime Jacquet and Roger Lemerre.
'We wanted to start preparing for the tournament as soon as possible,' Santini said at a news conference at Clairefontaine training camp where the players gathered on Monday.
'I felt the need to spare the players unnecessary pressure.'
Santini said he known his final squad for some time but had waited for the green light from team doctor Jean-Marcel Ferret before making the official announcement.
Thirty-one players had been summoned to Clairefontaine and underwent medical tests on Monday.
'There is no question mark left about the shape of the 23 players who are going to play the European championship,' Santini said. 'I knew where I was going and today's list is only the confirmation of what I saw throughout the season.'
Saha won Santini's vote after his move from Fulham to Manchester United this season while the coach kept faith with Wiltord even though he made few appearances for English champions Arsenal this season because of injury.
'It's a great relief and I'm really happy,' he said.
Saha benefited from the absence of AJ Auxerre's Djibril Cisse who was given a four-match ban by UEFA for kicking an opponent in an under-21 game in November.
'I'm aware I'm taking someone else's place but I'm really fit and ready for such a challenge,' Saha said.
The 25-year-old marked his international debut with a fine goal in France's 2-0 defeat of Belgium in February.
Santini also retained Olympique Marseille Steve Marlet, a player he has often picked despite strong competition.
Two Olympique Lyon strikers, Sidney Govou and Peguy Luyindula, missed out even though they helped their team to a third Ligue 1 title in succession.
Santini said he held face-to-face meetings with each of the 10 players left out on Tuesday morning.
'Everyone of them was disappointed but I wanted to explain what my options were. I think they deserved an explanation from me, as in several cases the choice was hard to make.'
Manchester City's Nicolas Anelka was left out after snubbing a late call-up for an international friendly in November 2002.
Monaco midfielders Ludovic Giuly and Jerome Rothen, though, will be in Portugal after a brilliant Champions League campaign.
The pair were allowed to return to their club on Tuesday to prepare for the final against Porto in Gelsenkirchen on May 26.
'If anything happens to one of the players still on duty with their clubs I will have the option of picking a replacement,' Santini said.
Other leading absentees were AJ Auxerre's defender Philippe Mexes and Werder Bremen midifielder Johan Micoud.
Goalkeepers: Fabien Barthez (Olympique Marseille), Gregory Coupet (Olympique Lyon), Mickael Landreau (Nantes)
Defenders: Jean-Alain Boumsong (Auxerre), Marcel Desailly (Chelsea), William Gallas (Chelsea), Bixente Lizarazu (Bayern Munich), Willy Sagnol (Bayern Munich), Mikael Silvestre (Manchester United), Lilian Thuram (Juventus).
Midfielders: Olivier Dacourt (Roma), Ludovic Giuly (Monaco), Claude Makelele (Chelsea), Benoit Pedretti (Sochaux), Robert Pires (Arsenal), Jerome Rothen (Monaco), Patrick Vieira (Arsenal), Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid)
Strikers: Thierry Henry (Arsenal), Steve Marlet (Olympique Marseille), Louis Saha (Manchester United), David Trezeguet (Juventus), Sylvain Wiltord (Arsenal)