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World Cup still beckons for Swiss

France had few opportunities in front of the Swiss goal

(Keystone)

Switzerland have given themselves a final chance to qualify for next year's World Cup after holding France to a 1-1 draw on Saturday in Bern.

With one game to go, the result means the Swiss are now in a four-team race with Ireland, France and Israel for a direct qualifying berth for the tournament.

Switzerland dominated most of the game. In the first ten minutes alone, the Swiss had three chances and nearly all of the first-half action took place in front of the French goal, leaving superstar Zinédine Zidane underemployed for much of the match.

Alexander Frei was a constant threat to the French defence, repeatedly running solo at the visitors' goal. The striker has netted six goals in Switzerland's last five matches, and scored 22 goals in 38 international appearances.

France's only goal chances in the first half resulted from Swiss mistakes.

But French striker Djibril Cissé came on as a half-time substitute and seven minutes later beat two defenders and the goalkeeper to put his team ahead.

Drawing level

Switzerland came back in the 80th minute with a free kick from midfielder Ludovic Magnin. It hit Lilian Thuram and deflected off the French defender's shoulder into the left corner of the goal.

"With the 1-1 we are holding on to all our World Cup chances," said Magnin. "We were briefly shocked after the 0-1, but then we regained our composure."

Both teams can still qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Ireland host Switzerland, and France host Cyprus when the group matches conclude on Wednesday.

Israel head the group with 18 points, but have played all their games. Switzerland and France are tied on 17 points, while Ireland are on 16.

"My players put in a great performance," said Swiss coach Köbi Kuhn after Saturday's match.

"If any team deserved the victory, it would be Switzerland. We gave everything and we dominated a great team most of the time. Now we must score points in Dublin."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Switzerland-France 1-1 (0-0)
Stade de Suisse, Bern
31,400 spectators
Goals: 52nd minute Cissé 0-1; 79th Magnin 1-1
Other Group 4 results:
Cyprus-Ireland 0-1
Israel-Faroe Islands 2-1
Ranking:
1. Israel 10 games/18 points
2. Switzerland 9/17 (18:7 goals for and against)
3. France 9/17 (10:2)
4. Ireland 9/16
5. Cyprus 9/4
6. Faroe Islands 10/1.

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