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French coach weighs attacking options for crunch qualifiers

French coach Raymond Domenech could well pick Toulouse striker Andre-Pierre Gignac (pictured) ahead of Real Madrid star Karim Benzema for France's potentially decisive qualifiers against Romania on Saturday and Serbia four days later.


REUTERS - Real Madrid might have picked the wrong France striker: statistics suggest the Spanish heavyweights, who spent up to 41 million euros to purchase Karim Benzema from Olympique Lyon, would have done better to buy Andre-Pierre Gignac.

While Benzema scored 17 league goals and did not quite live up to huge expectations at club and international levels last season, Gignac netted 24 goals for his unglamorous but solid Toulouse side and won his first caps in style.

The 21-year-old Benzema was courted by several top clubs including Manchester United but Gignac attracted only Lyon. Their lucrative offer was turned down by Toulouse, who appreciate what a good thing they have in him.

The 23-year-old first played for France in a World Cup qualifier against Lithuania in April, setting up Franck Ribery for the winner after coming on as a late substitute.

After two more convincing appearances as a substitute, he started an international for the first time in another qualifier, against the Faroe Islands last month, and scored the game's only goal.

With two potentially decisive qualifiers coming up, against Romania on Saturday and Serbia four days later, coach Raymond Domenech has included Gignac in the squad again and could be tempted to opt for him.

Gignac won the support of former players in a newspaper poll this week, when 13 of the 25 questioned said Domenech should pick him ahead of Benzema.

First match

Benzema has said his ambition is to become the world's best player, a goal he might still achieve. Such brash statements, however, should not be expected from the soft-spoken Gignac.

"It's my job to be decisive," Gignac told Reuters when asked for his secrets. "I always enter the pitch with a lot of determination and motivation but once the game starts I don't make any calculations; I just play."

Things were not always easy for Gignac, who made his Ligue 1 debut for Lorient in 2006, scoring a hat-trick against Nantes in the first match he started for the Brittany team.

Then came a controversial episode, when he signed an agreement for Lille before eventually deciding to go to southwesterners Toulouse.

During his first season there, he was often a substitute and it was only last season, after Sweden striker Johan Elmander had left for Bolton Wanderers, that he became the first choice.

More confidence

"Before last season, the coach (Alain Casanova) told me that if I really went for it, I could score 25 goals," Gignac said. "I thought he was making fun of me."

Gignac was always regarded as powerful and dangerous but, until last season, some argued that he was technically limited.

"Since last season I have a lot more confidence," he said. "Technically, I'm a lot better. That comes from working on small details in training."

Gignac, who has been compared to England's Wayne Rooney for his pugnacious approach to the game, has become known for his thumb-sucking gesture after scoring goals, a reference to his young son, Andre-Pierre Junior.

A man of few words, he is happy to let his goals do the talking, and Casanova is certainly not complaining.

"Having Andre-Pierre in our team is a huge bonus," the Toulouse coach told Reuters. "If you give him the ball, even a bad one, you know he will make something of it."

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