Bacary Sagna talks up France's World Cup chances
RIBEIRAO PRETO, Brazil (AP) While France coach Didier Deschamps has been pointedly playing down his team's expectations at the World Cup, defender Bacary Sagna is now doing the exact opposite.
France takes on Nigeria on Monday in their last 16 clash and Sagna is already thinking much further ahead.
Asked if France's World Cup will be considered a success if it reaches the quarterfinal stage, his response was quick and blunt.
''No. It would be a success if we go all the way. As players we aspire to go as far as possible, we aspire to win trophies and for me it would be a failure not to win the Cup,'' he said Friday. ''We've set ourselves certain objectives. First of all we wanted to get out of the group stage. Now we want to go all the way, so to stop against Nigeria would be a failure.''
Such bold talk is surprising, especially given how cautious Deschamps has been in trying not to raise hopes too high after an encouraging start, which saw France thrash Switzerland 5-2 and top Group E with seven points.
Deschamps cautioned after the Switzerland win that fans should not get too carried away.
Noel Le Graet, the French Football Federation president went even further, warning that it would be a ''bit pretentious'' to say that France is good enough to win the tournament.'' He added that ''we don't have the confidence of the Germans or the Brazilian team. We can't compare ourselves to the big nations yet.''
After the 0-0 draw against Ecuador on Wednesday, in which a sloppy France side missed a lot of chances, they seemed to have been proved right.
But Sagna, who made his 42nd appearance for France against Ecuador, has clearly seen enough cause for optimism.
''The objective is becoming and more and more precise,'' he said, with a view to raising the trophy on July 13. ''It's become the main objective because we're four games from the title and we want to do it.''
Spain, Italy, Portugal and England have been knocked out of the tournament, leaving Germany, Netherlands and France as the leading European teams left.
''We're lucky enough to be playing in the last 16 and that's not everyone's case,'' Sagna said. ''A lot of big teams have gone out.''
He is challenging Mathieu Debuchy to start at right back against Nigeria.
''Not so long ago I was playing every game and now it's Mathieu. I don't have a problem with it at all,'' Sagna said. ''Obviously I'd like to play, as everyone would, but 23 of us can't play.''
Sagna, who helped Arsenal win the FA Cup last season, is counting on French fans to turn out in numbers at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia - as they did when around 10,000 cheered on Les Bleus on at the Maracana against Ecuador.
''What has struck me the most has been the relationship with the fans,'' he said. ''In Rio it was like we were at the Stade de France, it makes the players feel confident. We know that France is also appreciated by the Brazilians, and hopefully that will be the case on Monday.''