France take on European champions Spain in friendly

European champions Spain, who qualified unbeaten for the World Cup, will test the form of the French team ahead of the June tournament in a titanic friendly at the Stade de France near Paris on Wednesday.


AFP - France captain Thierry Henry says he has no fears about playing in front of his country's fans for the first time since his controversial handball in the World Cup play-off defeat of Ireland.

Les Bleus confront European champions Spain at the Stade de France here on Wednesday and Henry, France's all-time leading goalscorer with 51 strikes, says he is focused purely on the game.

"I have no apprehension," he said on Tuesday. "We just want to see where we are. There's no reconciliation to be had with the fans, we qualified for the World Cup. But we'll have a better idea about all that after the match against Spain."

The Barcelona star repeated his insistence that the handball, which led to the decisive goal by William Gallas in the second leg of November's play-off with the Irish, was a "reflex" and said the incident had not changed him.

"No. I didn't expected what happened," he said. "It hasn't changed me but I've seen the real side of certain people."

Henry starred in Barcelona's unprecedented treble of league, cup and Champions League last season but has featured sporadically this term and is under pressure from Franck Ribery for his place on the left flank in the national side.

Quizzed on his preferred position, he bristled: "I've already said it a million times. I prefer playing in the middle but I can play anywhere.

"There is no problem. The important thing is that the team wins.

"Franck prefers playing on the left, me in the middle and the coach (Raymond Domenech) makes the decisions."

Henry ranks Spain as "the best team in the world alongside Brazil" but Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque was keen to talk up France's chances at the World Cup, which begins on June 11.

"France are still a magnificent team, even though they've coming off the back of a delicate phase during World Cup qualification," said Del Bosque, whose countrymen have not beaten France in France for 42 years.

"And like all top-level teams, once they've got through the difficult play-offs, they galvanise themselves and come back even harder to beat.

"I think France will have a very good World Cup."

Spain's superb victory at Euro 2008, coupled with the enduring brilliance of Barcelona and the resurgence of Real Madrid, have increased belief that La Furia Roja can win their first ever World Cup in South Africa.

Del Bosque, though, says fine football will not suffice if they are to capture the sport's ultimate prize.

"We know the current situation in Spanish football," he said.

"We can't deny that we are among the favourites for the World Cup, but we have to stay cautious and humble, because it's not always the best football that prevails."

Del Bosque also confirmed that Barcelona midfielder Xavi and Liverpool striker Fernando Torres would feature, despite concerns about their fitness.

"Xavi is with us, he's able to play. We'll give Torres game time.

"In any case, we welcome this kind of game because we will try as many players as possible.

"We knew that we'd only have the right to make six substitutions, but we've still come with 23 players in order to sustain the good spirit in the group and preserve the atmosphere."

Spain, who qualified unbeaten for the World Cup, will face Switzerland, Chile and Honduras in Group H.

France, champions in 1998 and finalists in 2006, were drawn alongside Mexico, Uruguay and hosts South Africa in Group A.

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