By Paul Kennedy
Averaging 2.67 goals per game, Spain enters Tuesday's match against France in Hanover with the highest-scoring team at the World Cup, but the Spaniards haven't faced a defense as experienced as the Bleus' backline.
All four starters won league championships in 2005-06: right back Willy Sagnol with Bayern Munich (Germany), center backs William Gallas with Chelsea (England) and Lilian Thuram with Juventus (Italy) and left back Eric Abidal with Lyon (France).
"A strong defense is a basis, something you can build on," said France coach Raymond Domenech, "and it's also reassuring for the entire team."
Sagnol took over at right back when Thuram, the right back on France's 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 championship teams, moved into the middle, where he plays for Juve. Gallas was finally moved from left back to his natural position in the middle for the 2006 World Cup. Abidal returned from a broken foot suffered in a friendly against Costa Rica last November in Martinique -- Lyon sued FIFA in a test case for a club's right to compensation for a player injured in international play -- and won the left back job.
Thuram is the oldest at 34. Sagnol is 29, Gallas 28 and Abidal 26.
Spain is one of the most attack-minded teams in the tournament -- it is expected to lineup with three strikers in David Villa, Fernando Torres and Luis Garcia -- but Sagnol is confident France can shut them down.
"The power of the opposing strikers should not really be a problem," said Sagnol, "if the four of us keep concentrating on our job and approaching it collectively."
IN AND OUT.
Captain Zinedine Zidane and Abidal return for France after missing Friday's 2-0 win over Togo because of suspensions.
France and Spain have never met at the World Cup. Spain leads the series with 11 wins, 10 losses and six ties in 27 games. Their most memorable encounter took place in the quarterfinals of Euro 2000 when eventual champion France won, 2-1. Raul missed a penalty in the final minute.
Spain (4-3-3): 1-Iker Casillas (60-0); 15-Sergio Ramos (13-2), 5-Carles Puyol (49-1), 22-Pablo Ibanez (13-0), 3-Mariano Pernia (3-1); 16-Marcos Senna (5-0), 14-Xabi Alonso (28-1), 8-Xavi (39-1); 11-Luis Garcia (12-3), 9-Fernando Torres (33-13), 21-David Villa (11-4).
France (4-2-3-1): 16-Fabien Barthez (83-0); 19-Willy Sagnol (41-0), 15-Lilian Thuram (117-2), 5-William Gallas (43-1), 3-Eric Abidal; 4-Patrick Vieira (90-5), 6-Claude Makelele (46-0); 22-Franck Ribery (6-0), 10-Zinedine Zidane, 7-Florent Malouda (15-2); 12-Thierry Henry (81-35).
Referee: Roberto Rosetti (Italy).
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Parreira's Ghana ties
Tuesday's Brazil-Ghana game has special meaning for Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. It was in Ghana that Parreira, a fitness coach by training, worked as a head coach for the first time.
He was only 24 in 1967 when he went to work in Ghana, on the recommendation of the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations.
"At that time, I didn't dream of coaching Brazil at the World Cup," said Parreira. "I hadn't even thought of being a coach. I wanted to be fitness trainer. I worked for 13 years in that job, before I realized I could be a coach."
Parreira, 63, spent two years in Ghana, working with the national team and Kumasi's Asante Kotoko. Ghana was Africa's dominant soccer country in the 1960s, though soccer was still very unorganized.
"At that time, it was very amateur," said Parreira. "We virtually camped in army tents. Now, they are much more experienced. They've lost their innocence."
Parreira's two-year stay in Ghana was the first of seven coaching stints in foreign countries to go along with jobs at nine Brazilian clubs and five stints with the Brazil national team.
He was Brazil's fitness trainer on its 1970 World Cup championship team and coached Brazil in 1983, 1991 and 1992-94, leading it to its fourth World Cup title at USA 1994.
He spent 13 years (1976-82 and 1985-1990) working in the Middle East -- he coached Kuwait and the UAE at the World Cup finals -- and has also coached clubs in the USA (MLS's MetroStars), Spain and Turkey.
Parreira began his fifth stint with Brazil in 2002, taking over for Luiz Felipe Scolari as head coach following Brazil's fifth World Cup championship.
IN AND OUT.
Young Robinho, who had played so well against Japan in Brazil's Group F finale, is out with a thigh injury. Parreira says he'll stick with his first team -- five of whom were rested against Japan -- though Juninho Pernambucano could keep his spot in midfield with Ronaldinho moving up front in place of Adriano. Ghana is without Michael Essien, suspended for picking up his second yellow card of the tournament against the USA. Sulley Muntari and Asamoah Gyan, who were suspended for the USA game, return.
Brazil won the only meeting between the two teams, defeating the Black Stars, 8-2, in a 1996 friendly.
Brazil (4-4-2): 1-Dida (89 caps-0 goals); 2-Cafu (147-0), 3-Lucio (53-2), 4-Juan (41-2), 6-Roberto Carlos (129-10); 17-Gilberto Silva (41-3), 5-Emerson (72-6), 8-Kaka (37-10), 10-Ronaldinho (69-30); 9-Ronaldo (101-64), 7-Adriano (34-24).
Ghana (4-4-2): 22-Richard Kingson (36 caps-0 goals); 15-John Paintsil (24-0), 13-Habib Mohammed (3-0), 5-John Mensah (36-0), 7-Shilla Illiasu (5-0); 9-Derek Boateng (13-3), 10-Stephen Appiah (44-12), 20-Otto Addo (15-1), 11-Sulley Muntari (18-6); 14-Matthew Amoah (19-7), Asamoah Gyan (15-9)
Referee: Lubos Michel (Slovakia).
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FIFA action against Figo is unlikely
FIFA spokesperson Markus Siegler said it was very unlikely that Portugal star Luis Figo will be suspended for his team's quarterfinal game against England.
Figo head-butted Mark van Bommel during Portugal's unruly match against the Netherlands. Referee Valentin Ivanov, who did not see the incident, gave Figo a yellow card after one of his assistants alerted him to Figo's actions.
"He was sanctioned immediately by the referee at the time," said Siegler. "The referee's report came in last night and has been analyzed by the relevant people, but it is very unlikely anything will happen as he has been sanctioned already. It is only where there is a clear disciplinary issue which has not been acted upon by the referee that the committee can look at it."
Portugal will be without midfielders Costinha and Deco, who were both handed red cards by Ivanov. Fellow midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo limped off the field in tears after a nasty challenge from Dutchman Khalid Boulahrouz and is uncertain for the England game.