France, Switzerland share the spoils

France and Switzerland opened their World Cup campaigns with a goalless draw high on endeavour but short on flair on Tuesday.

France, the 1998 champions, were out to erase the nightmare they endured at the last World Cup when they never recovered from a first-match defeat to Senegal, but they have now gone goalless in their last four World Cup finals matches.

The Group G clash at the home of Porsche spluttered and stuttered but never slipped in to overdrive as the neighbours carved out their third stalemate in as many encounters.

A huge roar went up when Frank Ribery, earning his first start, got his first touch of the ball, but the Marseille midfielder was stopped in his tracks by Swiss defender Patrick Muller.

France keeper Fabien Barthez’s first touch was scooping up a shot from Tranquillo Barnetta, who shortly after fired in a free kick, only for Swiss defender Philippe Senderos’s header to hit the post.

France defender Eric Abidal blocked Alexander Frei’s attempt to tap in the rebound.

France, who were all wearing armbands sporting injured Djibril Cisse’s name on them, then sprung to life with Zinedine Zidane in his last World Cup looking a lot sharper than he had done in the warm-ups.

His midfield partner Ribery fired a Thierry Henry cross wide and then had a good chance when bursting into the box, but he flicked the ball onto Henry whose shot was stopped by Pascal Zuberbuhler. It glanced Muller’s left hand on the way. Appeals for a penalty were waved away by Russian referee Valentin Ivanov.

Ribery, who emerged for the second half a full two minutes before his teammates, set Patrick Vieira up with a neat flick-on after some deft work by Zidane, but the Juventus enforcer scuffed his shot wide from the edge of the box.

Senderos produced a fine tackle to thwart the charging Sylvain Wiltord, set loose in the box by Senderos’s Arsenal teammate Henry on the hour mark.

Zidane was then left bemused as he was booked for taking a free kick too quickly.

Switzerland, with the third youngest side at the finals, had their fans roaring when Barnetta burst down the left, having beaten off Vieira with Eric Abidal stepping in to knock his shot over the line.

As the momentum swung Switzerland’s way Barthez, chosen over Gregory Coupet, came off best in a goalmouth scramble, pulling off a great save to stop substitute David Gygaz’s header.

In a bid to end the deadlock, French coach Raymond Domenech replaced Ribery with Manchester United striker Louis Saha with 20 minutes to go, with Wiltord coming off for Vikash Dhorasoo.

The move almost paid off as Saha set up Dhorasoo, only for the Paris Saint Germain midfielder’s low drive to go just wide of the far post.—AFP

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