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France is said to be one of the favourites to win the World Cup. Do you agree?
Well, every team competing in the World Cup wants to win it. We are no exception. But we want to be pragmatic in our approach. We know our first three opponents and we are preparing with an eye to ensure qualification for the second round. No doubt we want to go as far as possible in the tournament and we are ambitious. But we have to take it round by round.
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Which other countries can upset your ambition?
There are quite a few and all of them are big nations in terms of international success in football. Germany, Spain, Brazil and all. These teams have experience of winning important tournaments. They have the requisite quality to go the distance.
France failed in the final of Euro 2016…
That has made our fans hopeful. But I know we have a relatively young side. For many of them, this will be the first World Cup. So that’s not an easy task in the first big competition. We must reach our first goal first, i.e, reaching the second round. To achieve it, we have to go through a lot of hard work and discipline as well as determination.
Being a World Cup winning captain, how does it help in coaching the national side?
It helps, definitely. Not being the World Cup-winning captain, but the fact that I had played for quite some time professionally. That helps. The duties are different though. But it helps to understand a player and his psychology. And I am the same passionate person as I was during my playing days. My duty is to serve the footballers who are representing France. That’s the highest honour for me — to serve my country. At the same time, it is a beautiful responsibility.
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It seems that Didier-Benzema problem still exists…
What I want to tell you is that I have no problems with Karim. My responsibility is to pick the best team, to choose the best ones whose inclusion will benefit the group. My choices are always sporting, never personal. More importantly, the name of the nation is involved here and I have to pick players accordingly. When the media reports surfaced couple of years back, I had to make sure controversies do not affect the performances of the team. The team responded well. We reached the Euro final. We lost, yes, but the players had my trust and they did everything accordingly. Both on and off the field. So, we decided to go with the group.
How do you manage these relatively younger footballers since they represent a new generation?
I believe in speaking to them and we should never generalize. As human beings, they have all those basic qualities and as players, they are self confident. It’s not at all difficult to manage them. You just need to protect them a bit.
Denmark, Peru and Australia are in the group. It should not be a problem for France to advance…
Football is never played on paper. It will be dangerous to take anything for granted, especially in the World Cup. Australia have been playing quite regularly. Peru are from a different continent with a different playing style while Denmark are dangerous. We must be alert.
Are you under more pressure now that it will be your second World Cup as coach?
No, I am not under more pressure simply because I live for my passion. It is the passion for the game that keeps me going. It guided me even in my playing days and it is guiding me as well. I always remember, it’s a sport and the fun factor should be there.
How disappointing was the Euro Final defeat?
More disappointing, since we were playing in France. We were the hosts and we remember the World Cup final we had won in our country. But they played better, we could not score more. However, that was an important lesson for all of us. We took it positively which should help us in Russia.