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May 14, 2006

Uncapped Ribery and Chimbonda in France squad

PARIS, May 14 (Reuters) - France coach Raymond Domenech bowed to popular demand by picking Olympique Marseille's Franck Ribery in his 23-man squad for the World Cup finals on Sunday.

Arguably the finest player in Ligue 1 this season, the 23-year-old attacking midfielder is being hailed in France as the new Zinedine Zidane but had so far been overlooked by Domenech.

Ribery is one of two uncapped players on Domenech's list with Pascal Chimbonda, a 27-year-old defender who plays for Wigan Athletic in the Premiership.

'The first criterion was talent but experience in major events was also important,' Domenech told reporters after naming his squad on Sunday.

'The current form was not that relevant because we still have three weeks to get ready.'

France, who struggled to qualify for the June 9-July 9 finals in Germany, will start their campaign by facing Switzerland on June 13 in Stuttgart. South Korea and Togo are also in their group.

'Character was also a factor,' Domenech added. 'There are those who play and those who will be substitutes. Everybody in the group must now swallow their pride.'

The choice of Chimbonda, who handed in a transfer request moments after Wigan's final game of the season last week and is a target for Tottenham Hotspur, came as a total surprise.

RACIALLY ABUSED

Chimbonda left France at the end of last season after being racially abused during his spell at Corscican side Bastia.

The versatile Ribery, both a fighter and an artist whose only international appearances so far were for France's under-21 side, was listed as a forward on Domenech's list.

Up front, alongside France's top two marksmen, Arsenal's Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet of Juventus, Domenech also picked Louis Saha, who had moved back into the reckoning after scintillating displays over the past few months.

The Manchester United forward has pushed Dutch scoring machine Ruud Van Nistelrooy on to the Old Trafford substitutes' bench, which says it all.

Missing from the list are Arsenal's Robert Pires and Barcelona's Ludovic Giuly, who will face each other in the Champions League final on Wednesday at the Stade de France.

The 32-year-old Pires, who won the last of his 79 caps for France in October 2004, has had a good season for Arsenal but has had a difficult relationship with Domenech since publicly criticising the coach's tactics.

Domenech said that World Cup and European championship winner Fabien Barthez would be his number one goalkeeper at the World Cup ahead of Olympique Lyon's Gregory Coupet.

Barthez is one of six survivors from France's 1998 World Cup-winning squad with Lilian Thuram, Patrick Vieira, Zidane, Henry and Trezeguet.

Zidane, who came out of retirement last year to help France win their ticket to Germany, will end his prolific career after the World Cup.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Fabien Barthez (Olympique Marseille), Gregory Coupet (Olympique Lyon), Mickael Landreau (Nantes)

Defenders: Eric Abidal (Olympique Lyon), Jean-Alain Boumsong (Newcastle United), Pascal Chimbonda (Wigan Athletic), William Gallas (Chelsea), Gael Givet (Monaco) Willy Sagnol (Bayern Munich), Mikael Silvestre (Manchester United), Lilian Thuram (Juventus)

Midfielders: Vikash Dhorasoo (Paris St Germain), Alou Diarra (Racing Lens), Claude Makelele (Chelsea), Florent Malouda (Olympique Lyon), Patrick Vieira (Juventus), Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid).

Strikers: Djibril Cisse (Liverpool), Thierry Henry (Arsenal), Franck Ribery (Olympique Marseille), Louis Saha (Manchester United), David Trezeguet (Juventus), Sylvain Wiltord