Domenech puts popularity on the line again

PARIS - France coach Raymond Domenech has another chance to court controversy and test his shattered popularity with the fans when he names his World Cup squad on Tuesday.

The uncompromising Domenech, who is booed by the France fans at every game, is likely to leave out several high-profile players when he unveils his 23-strong list for the June 11-July 11 finals in South Africa.

To be fair, it is not really his fault, with many stalwarts either struggling with injuries, no longer first-choice starters at their clubs or simply past their prime.

Defender William Gallas has a calf problem, Thierry Henry and Karim Benzema have often been left on the bench at Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively this season and Patrick Vieira has been looking his 33 years of age, to name just a few problems.

Gallas, however, is France's only totally reliable central defender, Henry is the team captain and Vieira has unique experience and skills, even if his body is showing signs of wear and tear.

That means those three might well win tickets to South Africa, although media reports that Domenech has asked holding midfielder Claude Makelele to come out of international retirement suggested there was still a doubt about Vieira.

Things are not looking too good for Benzema, especially after Domenech suggested earlier this month Panathinaikos forward Djibril Cisse could be on the list.

POLICE INVESTIGATION

Benzema is one of three players, alongside Franck Ribery and Sidney Govou, whose names were mentioned by police investigating a prostitution network.

Ribery and Govou have already been heard as witnesses and Benzema should follow, although not until after the World Cup, a source close to the investigation said.

Arguably France's most inspirational player, Ribery has little to fear and so useful is Govou that he could also be picked. Benzema, by contrast, could have to stay home.

Domenech, whose contract ends after the World Cup, has other worries. The coach has faced criticism ever since his side's Euro 2008 flop and needed that infamous Henry handball to squeeze through to this year's finals at the expense of Ireland.

To make matters worse, playmaker Yoann Gourcuff is sidelined with a sore hamstring, although he should be fit in time for the World Cup.

Injuries are a sensitive issue for Domenech after he included Vieira in his Euro 2008 squad despite a thigh injury. Vieira, then the France captain, never came onto the pitch.

Another problem at Euro 2008 was a reported rift between the seasoned players such as Henry and Gallas and youngsters like Benzema and Samir Nasri, the latter not certain to be chosen this time despite brilliant performances for Arsenal.

Domenech is famous for pulling rabbits out of his hat for major tournaments, like defender Pascal Chimbonda for the 2006 World Cup or forward Bafetimbi Gomis for Euro 2008.

There are several candidates for a surprise nomination this time, among them Stade Rennes midfielder Sylvain Marveaux and Tottenham defender Younes Kaboul.

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