In the absence of the injured Patrick Vieira, it could be down to Claude Makelele to hold the line in the French midfield tomorrow when they take on Romania in their opening Group C Euro 2008 fixture.
Makelele says that, despite the temporary loss of Vieira, France have the maturity and the strength in depth to survive without their skipper against the first of their “Group of Death” rivals, who also include world champions Italy and 1988 European champions Holland.
For “Make” what is important is to send out a balanced side and he insists that will be the case, even as Vieira faces having to look on from the sidelines as the campaign starts.
“That [his absence] doesn’t change anything for me,” Chelsea star Makelele said. “[Jeremy] Toulalan and Patrick have different qualities. But we have been able to adapt in midfield during warm-up matches. We know what we have to do. The most important thing is to respect the French set-up. There is a great complicity between Toulalan and myself. When I move up he sits in front of the defense. There’s no problem. You adapt to your opponents. We are intelligent enough to read their game and make adjustments — it’s up to the players to decide.”
Coach Raymond Domenech has gone through his permutations and did so again in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Colombia, which featured a midfield trio of Makelele, Toulalan and Florent Malouda, with Franck Ribery in the No. 10 role.
That line-up enabled France to shrug off Vieira’s loss and give themselves a more offensive profile into the bargain.
Nevertheless, Makelele was relieved to see Vieira back in training on Thursday.
“He is feeling better and better. There are still three days to go before taking a decision,” Makelele said. “He is an important player for France and I hope he will be ready and able to bring his qualities to the table for this Euro. He has to limit the risks to himself and take the best decision for him and the French team.”
Vieira is a mainstay of the French side with his 105 caps and is one of three survivors from the squad which lifted the World Cup in 1998 and went on to lift Euro 2000, the others being Thierry Henry and Lilian Thuram.
Makelele insists he is ready for the Euro after a long season in the English Premiership and Champions League.
“This season I often played two matches a week with my club, but that’s not been a problem,” he said, while acknowledging that he would say so if he felt tiredness was getting the better of him and noting he was not certain to be a starter at 35.
Even so, with 68 caps to his name, Makelele is a “stabilizer” force that Domenech will be pleased to have in is armory to negotiate the toughest group.
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