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By ESPN Staff

France coach Blanc faces captaincy dilemma

New France coach Laurent Blanc goes into his first competitive international, Friday's opening Euro 2012 qualifier against Belarus, looking for a successor to exiled World Cup captain Patrice Evra.

• France v Belarus preview

The Manchester United defender led his country through their dismal campaign in South Africa, which ended in acrimony as the squad refused to train on June 20 - two days before their final Group A game against hosts South Africa - in protest at the exclusion from the squad of Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka.

Evra has been banned for five games for his part in that mutiny and Alou Diarra and Florent Malouda are seemingly among the names in the frame as Blanc seeks to reassign the armband.

Roma defender Philippe Mexes led a shadow squad for last month's friendly in Norway - with the whole World Cup squad excluded - but Blanc said: "If somebody emerges quickly through his charisma and personality, then he will be the new captain.

"I know Alou very well and I know he can perform the role at club level. That is an important element but we must not forget that the captain must be certain of his place on the pitch. Alou could eventually fill this role.

"(Malouda) is one of those who has the experience. He is playing well at the moment, and he has had two or three seasons as an automatic choice.''

Evra's ban also leaves the left-back spot up for grabs, with Arsenal's Gael Clichy out to seize his chance against Belarus. Lyon's Aly Cissokho took the jersey against Norway but is now absent with a shoulder injury, leaving the returning Clichy to battle with Bordeaux's Benoit Tremoulinas.

Clichy told L'Equipe: "The door is a little bit open. But even if I play in these five matches, that does not mean the end for Pat just like that. It's difficult to say. We are talking about a player who has 30 caps (32).

"If I play on Friday, I will give my all. My experience gives me a slight advantage over Benoit, but I'd rather rely purely on my ability.''

Belarus coach Bernd Stange goes into the match, and the qualifying campaign, in confident mood despite a handful of absentees from his first-choice squad.

Defender Maksim Bordachev misses out due to illness while Stange opted to leave midfielders Timofei Kalachev and Leonid Kovel out of his squad, along with defender Dmitri Verkhovtsov, as recent injuries have left them short of match-fitness.

Birmingham's deadline-day signing Alexander Hleb's place is also in doubt after his lack of recent match action, while keeper Yury Zhevnov has featured only sporadically with Zenit St Petersburg - possibly clearing a path for FC Rostov's Anton Amelchenko.

But Stange told "We face difficult opponents and it will be very hard for us. However, our aim is to qualify to the finals. Our minimum task is to reach the play-offs. We have to try to take our chance.''


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