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Friday, March 23, 2007

France, Lithuania both missing top players

France is heading to Lithuania for a European Championship qualifier with a depleted squad desperate for a win.

The host will be in the exact same position on Saturday in Kaunas, 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Lithuania's capital Vilnius.

"France is a very strong team, but we are not going to defend our goal blindly for 90 minutes, keeping nine players back and one in front," Lithuania coach Algimantas Liubinskas said.

France is tied with Scotland at the top of Group B with nine points each, ahead of World Cup champion Italy. Lithuania, which held Italy to a 1-1 draw in September, is in fifth place with four points but has a game in hand.

"Everyone is aware of the importance of this match," France midfielder Florent Malouda said on Thursday. "We are not aiming for a draw. We are aiming for victory. We can't waste any more chances."

France will be without captain Patrick Vieira, strikers Thierry Henry and Louis Saha, and winger Franck Ribery.

"There are people missing, yes," France coach Raymond Domenech said. "The manager must adapt to the circumstances. That's a manager's job."

Instead, France may have to rely on midfielders Lassana Diarra, Abou Diaby and Samir Nasri, and striker Karim Benzema. None of the four has played in an international for France.

"They can play. They can get into the team," Domenech said. "They all play in big clubs and are used to the top level."

Lithuania will be missing two of its top players - striker Edgaras Jankauskas and midfielder Saulius Mikoliunas. Both are injured.