Record-equalling Domenech has it all to prove

SOUSSE, Tunisia - Raymond Domenech is the first coach to have qualified France for three successive major tournaments and is about to match Michel Hidalgo's record of 75 games in charge - but his legacy is yet to be written.

The stubborn 58-year-old, who was surprisingly left in charge after his side's Euro 2008 flop and has done nothing since to make fans warm to him, will join Hidalgo in the record books with a World Cup warm-up against Tunisia on Sunday.

The man with the bushy eyebrows and dry humour has a long way to go to become as popular as Hidalgo, who guided France to the 1984 European championship title, or 1998 World Cup-winning coach Aime Jacquet.

"Records are there to be broken but it's an honour to catch up somebody like Michel Hidalgo, who's had such a great run for France," Domenech told reporters at France's training camp in Tunisia on Saturday.

"Normally, such a record is a sign for stability but maybe I'm an exception," added the coach, who has been under fire for years and has been booed by France fans in recent, uninspired outings from the former world and European champions.

Domenech, often criticised in France for never having won anything as a coach, has very little time to polish his image as he will be replaced after the World Cup by former France defender Laurent Blanc.

He has a few trump cards, however, and is not under that much pressure with many fans and media predicting an early exit after France needed a controversial play-off win over Ireland to qualify for the June 11-July 11 finals in South Africa.


A ray of hope returned when Domenech named his 23-man squad, carefully leaving out Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri, who were among those blamed for creating a rift between the youngsters and the more experienced players at Euro 2008.

The atmosphere in the team, so miserable in 2008, is spectacularly better this time and the coach has even allowed himself to make a few bold moves.

Leaving captain Thierry Henry out of his starting line-up in a 2-1 warm-up win over Costa Rica on Wednesday and opting for a 4-3-3 formation instead of his preferred, more defensive 4-2-3-1 system were two indications Domenech is in the mood for experiments.

"I don't see any first-choice players or substitutes," Domenech said of his decision to leave Henry, who has had a difficult season with Barcelona, on the bench.

"We're a group. Everybody must remain under pressure and available to help," he added.

It will take more than all this for France to repeat their run to the 2006 World Cup final, Domenech's greatest feat to this day, but there are at least positive signs.

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