France focus on Belarus following race row

PARIS - France will be hoping to put the recent row over ethnic quotas in youth teams behind them as they welcome the return of Eric Abidal for a Euro 2012 qualifier in Belarus on Friday.

France coach Laurent Blanc, who was cleared by a twin investigation into the discrimination issue last month, said he would talk through the scandal with his players but was quick to shift focus to the Belarus game.

"I haven't yet but I plan to (talk to the players). I don't fear that moment," Blanc told reporters. "The match against Belarus is more important than what I can feel about that."

France top Group D on 12 points from five matches, four ahead of second-placed Belarus, and Blanc is hoping his players would remain motivated despite ending the domestic league season last weekend.

"We will have to make an effort. It is up to us, the staff, to make them understand they have to do the job for nine more days," he told reporters.

FAfter Belarus, rance will play two friendly internationals against the Euro 2012 co-hosts on June 6 and 9, in Ukraine and Poland respectively.

"We're not going to Eastern Europe on a tourism trip," Blanc added.

Players whose league season ended earlier took part in a special programme conducted by French fitness coaches so they would remain in shape for Friday's qualifier.

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and Bayern Munich midfielder Franck Ribery were among those who received the training.

Blanc will have to make a decision on who will start the Belarus game at left back now that Abidal has returned to fitness after undergoing surgery in March to remove a liver tumour.

The Barcelona defender, who started last Saturday's Champions League Final against Manchester United and was given the honour of lifting the trophy after the side won 3-1, could well start on Friday.

"I would not have thought that he would be back so soon," Blanc said.

"Physically, I thought he was at a good level. This (Champions League) game, the two or three he played before, and the fact he is back with the France squad will give him a huge confidence boost.

"I hope he will be a driving force for the team."