FRANCE are still looking to unearth a new Zinedine Zidane, but they at least seem to have found the next Patrick Vieira.
Abou Diaby was a ray of hope in France's lacklustre 0-0 draw with Uruguay in their World Cup opener on Friday, stepping out of the shadow of Vieira, who is now in the twilight of his career and did not make the squad.
A surprise starter against Uruguay, the powerful 24-year-old midfielder was his side's best player by a long way and now seems an automatic choice for coach Raymond Domenech.
Diaby, who had been convincing when he came on in France's three warm-up games, treated the France fans to a performance reminiscent of Vieira. His lanky frame and the ability to win the ball and advance it up the field with calm authority brought to mind Vieira in his pomp.
Diaby, who plays for Arsenal in the role once filled by the former France captain, is now ready to do the same for the 1998 World Cup winners. "I tried to do my job but I really wanted us to win this game," said Diaby, putting aside his own display to admit it was two points dropped by France. "Personally I think I can do even better."
Diaby knew his hour might come in South Africa for two reasons. Fellow holding midfielder Lassana Diarra has been ruled out of the finals by illness while Domenech's new, more attacking 4-3-3 formation suits Diaby.
"He's an interesting player, both defensively and in attack, and he did not disappoint me," Domenech said.
One man alone, however, is not enough to spark a French renaissance, and Diaby realises Les Bleus, who next face Mexico and then World Cup hosts South Africa in Group A, need to translate possession into chances. "We're lacking something in the last 30 metres," he said. "That's something we'll work on during the rest of the competition and I think we will get better."
For Uruguay, it was a case of learning lessons from a game they finished with 10 men.
Billed as the bright new hopes of Uruguayan football, Luis Suarez and Nicolas Lodeiro suffered under the weight of expectation very differently in the goalless draw.
Coach Oscar Tabarez came to rue his decision to send on Lodeiro after 63 minutes, when the agitated 21-year-old was booked within two minutes, and then given a second yellow and a red after just 16 minutes on the field for felling Bacary Sagna.
Suarez, Lodeiro's team mate at Ajax, seemed to wilt by contrast, showing little of the sparkle which made him the Dutch league's top scorer this season with 35 goals. With Lodeiro now ruled out of Uruguay's next game against hosts South Africa in Pretoria on June 16, Tabarez will have to reanimate 23-year-old Suarez, who he substituted in the 74th minute.
"Suarez didn't give his best perhaps, but there were certain circumstances," Tabarez said after the match, stressing that the fast slippery pitch had given rise to technical errors and caught the team off-guard.
Asked whether he might change his line-up and replace Suarez, he said: "It is not good to change players who didn't give their best performances, then they lose more confidence."
Uruguay had relied on strike duo Diego Forlan and Suarez to open up the French defence. Livewire Forlan was dangerous, albeit testing Hugo Lloris only once with a 20-metre curler.
"We need to talk to the players very candidly about the match," Tabarez said, adding he had a very open relationship with Suarez.
"He started with the junior national squad so we've been working for some years together. We will have to decide what happened to him, how he felt on the pitch. He is a great player."
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