France coach Raymond Domenech and skipper Thierry Henry have issued a plea to their supporters ahead of today's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier against Lithuania.
"The players need the fans," Domenech told a press conference at France's training headquarters ahead of the Stade de France Group 7 fixture. The group of supporters who jeered the national side in last month's friendly loss to Argentina had come in for criticism last week from amongst others Patrice Evra.
But Domenech was at pains to point out that whistling a side when times were tough was not a phenomenon unique to France. "We shouldn't generalise if a section of the public whistle. It doesn't happen only in France. Abroad I've seen teams booed off the pitch if they've lost. On Wednesday the fans can give a little bit of help to the players... they need a real 12th man."
Henry echoed his manager's comments and called on supporters to be patient. "If we come out and people sense that we're up for it, they'll be with us. But we always score goals against Lithuania in the last 10 or 15 minutes. We're patient on the pitch, I hope the public will be patient too if it's 0-0 with 20 minutes to go."
We're patient on the pitch, I hope the public will be patient too
Henry suggested that despite coming up against the same rivals for the second time in four days it was difficult to forecast how Wednesday's return leg would pan out. "Often the second game has no bearing on the first. I hope that we succeed in doing what we did over there and especially that we can score quickly.
"The ground at the Stade de France will be more playable (than in Kaunas) but it'll be the same for the Lithuanians. We have to remain vigilant because they know how to wait and play on the counter attack."
In team news Domenech has drafted in Rio Mavuba of Lille to replace Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby, who has withdrawn with a hip problem. The absence of Diaby is a headache for Domenech, already missing Jeremy Toulalan with the Lyon midfielder suspended after picking up his second yellow card in Kaunas following the one he received in last October's 2-2 draw with Romania.
As well as the inexperienced Mavuba, France could also call on Bordeaux's Alou Diarra to work alongside Lassana Diarra with Toulalan unavailable. Mavuba has won six caps but last appeared two years ago in a friendly win over Austria.
Franck Ribery scored the decisive goal in the 67th minute in the first leg of this double header against the former Soviet state in Kaunas on Saturday to give a major boost to France's hopes of qualifying for South Africa 2010.
The 2006 finalists, who have a game in hand, can go second, two points behind leaders Serbia, if they win on Wednesday 1 April. Asked whether playing the game on April Fool's Day was cause for concern Domenech replied: "The only thing that worries me is the result!"