Bosnia present tough test for ailing France

LONDON - After his campaign to restore pride in the French jersey suffered a first-day setback with a home defeat by Belarus, new France coach Laurent Blanc could have done with an easier task than a trip to Bosnia on Tuesday.

Italy should have a more comfortable day, with a home tie against Faroe Islands, while Germany host Azerbaijan and England face what could be a tricky away match in Switzerland.

Blanc, who took over from Raymond Domenech after France's World Cup fiasco, is a well-liked figure and is never likely to become as unpopular as his predecessor.

The French public and media, still fuming at their players' strike in South Africa, recognise that the new man needs time to build a new team and a new attitude - even if the fans jeered after the opening 1-0 Group D defeat in the Stade de France.

France failed to produce much in the way of goal chances against Belarus and Blanc faces more striking problems on Tuesday after forwards Loic Remy, Guillaume Hoarau and Louis Saha were ruled out of the Bosnia match by injuries picked up on Friday.

The only good news for Blanc is that Karim Benzema has recovered from a sore ankle and will be fit to play.

"Under such circumstances we cannot say we are going to Bosnia to win," Blanc said. "After what happened on Friday, we need to remain humble."

Asked when his team would become competitive, he said: "I don't know. It can take a year but it might also never happen. I'm just hoping we can solve our problem as quickly as possible."

Bosnia, who opened their campaign with a 3-0 win in Luxembourg, missed out on the 2010 World Cup in a playoff with Portugal and will provide a stiff challenge on home soil.

"France are coming to us as wounded lions but we will also try to cause a surprise," said coach Safet Susic.

Belarus will look to build on their stunning start with a home win against Romania, who beat them 3-1 home and away in the last European championship qualifying campaign.

ENGLAND TEST

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli briefly looked as if he would also get his tenure under way with a shock defeat until Antonio Cassano and Leonardo completed a 2-1 comeback win over Estonia.

There should be no such wobbles on Tuesday as the Group C favourites host the Faroe Islands in Florence where Cassano, back in favour after being ignored by previous boss Marcello Lippi, will play alongside Sampdoria team mate Giampaolo Pazzini.

Serbia, likely to be Italy's chief group rivals, are at home to fellow 2010 World Cup participants Slovenia, who need to make up ground quickly following their surprise 1-0 home defeat by Northern Ireland in their opener.

England got off to a flier with a 4-0 home win over Bulgaria, where Jermain Defoe scored a hat-trick and Wayne Rooney helped to set up all four goals, but it is at the other end, where they will field a patched-up, inexperienced defence, that they need to be on their mettle in what could be a testing encounter against Switzerland in Basel.

Coach Fabio Capello, struggling to rebuild England's confidence and his own reputation after the World Cup, can take some encouragement though from Switzerland's continued struggles in front of goal.

They managed only one goal in the World Cup and looked toothless in a 0-0 friendly draw with Australia last week.

World and European champions Spain are not in action on Tuesday but Germany, runners up in Vienna four years ago, are at home to Azerbaijan having secured a good opening 1-0 win in Belgium.

Portugal, held 4-4 at home by Cyprus in their remarkable Group H opener, have an awkward-looking trip to Norway, 2-1 winners in Iceland last week.

Interact: Twitter * Facebook * Forums