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France to face Senegal in opener | WORLD CUP NEWS HOMEPAGE

PARIS (Reuters) - Champions France will not make the mistake of underestimating World Cup newcomers Senegal in the opening match of next year's finals against their former colony.

The game on May 31 will hold special significance for French midfielder Patrick Vieira who was born in Senegal, while most of the African country's squad play their club football in France.

France captain Marcel Desailly said his team's experience against South Africa in the group stages of the 1998 finals was a reminder of the growing threat from African teams.

France beat South Africa 3-0 in their first match in group C with the help of two own goals on home soil in 1998, but the second goal did not arrive until 12 minutes from time.

"I hope we will make a good start in this World Cup with a victory as I'm certain the first game will be crucial", said Desailly.

"Senegal have great potential and we must remember it was a little bit difficult to beat the South Africans in our first match four years ago. But it's interesting to take on another African team."

"Against Senegal, there will be a lot of folklore and joy, they have a lot of very good players. We're happy to start against Senegal," he said.


French playmaker Zinedine Zidane said it was likely to be a hard battle against Senegal in Seoul but admitted he knew little about their style of play.

"We can expect a tough physical challenge. We know how the African teams play," said the 2000 world player of the year.

"We know very little about them. Senegal have never played in the World Cup and this is the opening match so it will be very important for them."

Senegal beat France 2-0 in a friendly international in Dakar in 1963, according to Senegalese Football Federation records.

More recently, Frank Leboeuf, Youri Djorkaeff and Christian Karembeu, who all became full internationals, played for a France 'B' team in a 3-1 win also in Dakar in 1993.

"(Senegal coach) Bruno Metsu has been trained in France so I always fear the worst," France coach Roger Lemerre said. "This match will set the tone of the whole competition."

Desailly said he was confident France would make it through to the second stage from group A, which also contains Denmark and Uruguay.

If France make the last 16 they will face one of the teams from group F, already dubbed the 'Group of Death', containing Argentina, England, Sweden and Nigeria.

"We cannot complain if you compare our draw with the England group, but we're moderately satisfied," added Desailly.

"Denmark is the most difficult team in our group but Senegal could be a surprise," the Chelsea defender added.

Senegal's Jean-Francois Bocande said he was delighted by the prospect of facing the world champions.

"We were joking with the guys saying that we could face France in the first round.

"They (the players) said it would be great to be in the same group as France. Now it's done," Bocande said.

"We can finish first or second in this group as we don't have anything to lose. The pressure will on the French shoulders. And the guys will have extra motivation. It's going to be a great game." homepage