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Football: Wal's Bleus warning; EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP Scotland v France, Saturday, Sky Sports 1, kick-off: 5 pm FRANCE ARE BACK ... AND BETTER THAN EVER.

Byline: BY DAVID LEGGAT

WALTER SMITH has warned the Tartan Army that France are a better side now than when they reached the World Cup Final three months ago.

The French arrive at Hampden on Saturday for a crunch Euro '08 qualifying campaign clash.

And Smith has made it clear to Scotland that if they think Les Bleus are past it, they are in for a rude awakening.

The Scotland manager said: "Right now, France have had two games and the form they have shown is even better than they did in the World Cup.

"They were outstanding when they won away in Georgia, and then again when they beat Italy at home, and currently they are ranked as one of the best teams in the world."

In fact, Smith reckons they will provide an even tougher test for the Scots than reigning world champions Italy.

He said: "I think that they are even more of a positive team just now than they were in Germany during the summer.

"It may have been expected that they went back after the World Cup, but that's been more of the case with Italy - with France, it's been exactly the opposite."

Smith also will not make the mistake of thinking that the loss of Zinadine Zidane will in any way weaken a star-studded French outfit.

He said: "Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry have been able to take control of the team and they do that with great confidence.

"The French don't change much, just a little bit of an alteration here and there, and whether it's home or away, their forwards are always very adventurous."

But none of this means the Scots will be shaking in their boots leading up to the clash, as Smith is at pains to point out.

He added: "For all of that, we have to make sure ourselves that we are not too over-concerned with what they have to offer - that would cause us problems. It would be dangerous for us to sit back too far as they are comfortable if we give them the ball and space to play with it in."

Smith is also hoping the Hampden Roar from a 50,000-strong Tartan Army can give the Scots the sort of lift they've had at the Old Ground against top sides in recent years.

He said: "There was a draw with Italy and, before that, a win over Holland plus a draw with Germany. I am hoping that sort of trend can continue this week."

One boost for Smith's Scots, who will be without the suspended Kenny Miller, is that James McFadden should be ready for action against the French.

Smith, though, knows he must guard against picking a team with too many of the men from south of the border who are not regular first-teamers.

He explained: "It's a matter of us trying to make sure we are not affected by changes in personnel.

"We have players like David Weir, Christian Dailly and Lee McCulloch as well as Faddy, who have not played a great deal for their clubs recently, and I have to be concerned with that."

TICKET BONUS FOR FRANCE CLASH

THE Tartan Army have been given a ticket boost for Saturday's Euro clash with France at Hampden.

For the French have returned 800 briefs which will spark a stampede when they go on sale first thing tomorrow morning.

The tickets - limited to two per person - will only be available from the SECC phone line - 08700 13 14 15. Phone lines open at 9am.

Given the short time-scale, tickets will have to be collected from the SECC, or at Hampden Park on the day of the match.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Oct 1, 2006
Words:614
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