Sunday 15 June 2008

Ribéry ramps up France ante

Franck Ribéry`s pranks have helped lift the mood in the France camp
France's UEFA EURO 2008™ hopes may be hanging by a thread, yet winger Franck Ribéry remains convinced Les Bleus will progress to the quarter-finals and is calling on his team-mates to "give absolutely everything" against Italy.

'We're still here'
The FC Bayern München playmaker has been one of France's most positive influences both on and off the pitch over the last ten days, making the other players laugh with his infamous practical jokes and giving everybody hope through his effervescent displays. It was no surprise, therefore, when the 25-year-old arrived at Sunday's news conference and immediately looked to raise French spirits. "We're still here and it's vital we keep on believing," Ribéry declared. "We need to give absolutely everything we've got against Italy, win the game, and make the most of the small chance that we still have."

Central role
Having started on the right wing against Romania, Ribéry was switched to a central role against the Netherlands from where he orchestrated France's play with skill and authority. Unfortunately for the former world champions, they struggled to apply the finishing touches to some fine approach play and were punished by their clinical Dutch opponents. Ribéry was nevertheless encouraged by the performance, saying: "I watched the game again and thought we played well at times. We created a lot of chances – we just couldn't finish the moves off. But we've turned the page and the Dutch game has been forgotten."

'Good form'
With coach Raymond Domenech expected to make changes for the final Group C game, Ribéry will have to wait to find out if he changes position again, but the man named Bundesliga Player of the Year by Kicker magazine is hoping to retain the central playmaker role that was occupied for so many years by Zinédine Zidane. "I felt as though I was in good form against Romania, but I felt even better against the Dutch," he explained. "I like having freedom on the pitch, to be able to run everywhere and touch the ball as often as possible. When I play in the middle I have more options. It's up to me to make the most of that and express myself as much as possible."

Vieira absence
Ribéry admitted that France had missed their former captain, saying: "Zizou's presence would have given everyone a lift." But it is the current skipper he wants to see on the Letzigrund Stadion pitch against the Azzurri. "We've missed Patrick [Vieira] lot," he said. "The coach and Pat don't want to take any risks on his fitness and that's understandable. Hopefully he'll be ready to face Italy. He's desperate to play but we'll have to see if he has totally recovered from the thigh injury. He's an important presence on the pitch, both as a holding player and as someone who can launch our attacks from midfield."