Vieira & Benzema ditched by France

PARIS - Experienced midfielder Patrick Vieira was left out of France's World Cup squad on Tuesday.

The former French captain was not included by coach Raymond Domenech in a provisional 30-man squad for the June 11-July 11 finals in South Africa.

The 33-year-old Manchester City player has won 107 caps and was a member of the team who lifted the World Cup in 1998 and won the European Championship two years later.

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Domenech, however, ruled out Vieira, still a gifted player but not as mobile as in his heyday.

"We have been following Pat for a while, hoping he could make it to the World Cup," Domenech told a news conference.

"It's a difficult moment. We tried, he did too. It's tough but comes a time when you need to make a decision".

Domenech, who had promised to name an official 23-man list but changed his mind at the last minute, faced a selection headache with several players struggling for fitness, no longer regular starters at their clubs or simply past their prime.

Striker Karim Benzema, hardly ever in the starting line-up at Real Madrid, was also left out along with midfielder Samir Nasri, despite convincing recent performances for Arsenal.

"Karim has talent and he will come back," Domenech said of Benzema. "He's had a difficult season with Real and we needed players who were fresh and hungry."


The France coach called up five uncapped players, including teenage Stade Rennes midfielder Yann M'Vila, the big surprise on the list, and Olympique Marseille midfielder Mathieu Valbuena.

A prominent member of the France side for a decade, Vieira last played for his country in June 2009, wearing the armband in a 1-0 friendly defeat by Nigeria.

His absence means that for the first time since winning the World Cup on home soil, France will play a major tournament without any player from the team who stunned Brazil 3-0 in the 1998 final at Stade de France.

"It was a challenge for me but I will not be able to play one last major tournament for France," Vieira told Canal Plus television. "He (Domenech) made a choice on sporting grounds, I accept that."

Thierry Henry, now the France captain, was in the 1998 squad but did not play in the final.

Usually a substitute for Barcelona, Henry, whose infamous handball helped France qualify for the World Cup at the expense of Ireland, plays a big role in Domenech's plans.

Defender William Gallas, who has been sidelined by a calf injury, was included in the provisional squad for the finals, where the 2006 runners-up will meet hosts South Africa, Mexico and Uruguay in the group stage.

Domenech, who has faced criticism ever since his side's Euro 2008 flop and is booed by the France fans at every match, has until June 1 to turn his list into an official 23-strong squ