Serbia seeking French connection to South Africa

BELGRADE - Serbia will qualify for next year's World Cup finals in South Africa if they beat France at home on Wednesday, a result which would also leave the 2006 runners-up struggling even for a playoff spot.

The French, held 1-1 at home by Romania on Saturday, trail European Group Seven leaders Serbia by four points ahead of the clash in the cauldron of Red Star's Marakana stadium.

Serbia have 18 points from seven games while France have 14 and are looking over their shoulders at Austria who moved up to third on 10 points after a 3-1 win over the Faroe Islands on Saturday. France host Austria in their final group game next month.

The winners of the nine European groups qualify directly for South Africa and the eight best runners-up play off for four more places.

France coach Raymond Domenech, under pressure after an early Euro 2008 exit and a patchy World Cup qualifying run, believes the difficult situation will bring the best out of his side.

"Our goal is to qualify, no matter how, and there are still points to be taken," he told reporters after his team were jeered off the pitch on Saturday.

"It's not my style to let go."

Defender Bacary Sagna added: "We're going to Serbia to win, and if we show the same attitude as against Romania, we are capable of winning there."

France created plenty of chances against Romania but showed rare glimpses of the team which reached the 2006 final in Germany under the leadership of Zinedine Zidane.

RAUCOUS FANS

Serbia, who will be roared on by 55,000 raucous home fans, are confident they can reach a major tournament for the first time as an independent nation.

Radomir Antic, who rejuvenated the team when he took over last year following a four-year break from coaching, refused to contemplate playing safe.

"We are not interested in any calculations, we got the result we wanted from the France v Romania match and it's now our turn to prove our worth," he said.

"We know who we are up against but we are improving all the time and we want to make an impact on the world soccer map, not just qualify for the World Cup."

Antic may be tempted to field a 4-3-2-1 formation, with in-form wingers Milos Krasic and Milan Jovanovic either side of lone striker Nikola Zigic.

Domenech is likely to play Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery from the start and may also replace Julien Escude, who scored an own-goal against Romania, with Eric Abidal in the centre of defence.

Probable teams:

Serbia: 1-Vladimir Stojkovic; 13-Ivan Obradovic, 3-Ivica Dragutinovic, 5-Nemanja Vidic, 6-Branislav Ivanovic; 11-Nenad Milijas, 4-Gojko Kacar, 10-Dejan Stankovic; 14-Milan Jovanovic, 17-Milos Krasic; 15-Nikola Zigic

France: 1-Hugo Lloris; 2-Bacary Sagna, 5-William Gallas, 3-Eric Abidal, 13-Patrice Evra; 14-Jeremy Toulalan, 6-Lassana Diarra; 7-Franck Ribery, 8-Yoann Gourcuff; 12-Thierry Henry; 10-Karim Benzema.