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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Brace for Russian Assault

PARIS -- France can expect its toughest World Cup warmup match to date when it faces Russia on Wednesday.

It's the first team headed to the finals in South Korea and Japan that France will have played in the last eight months.

And there's another reason for the French to be wary.

Despite their recent disappointing results, the Russians are the only team to have beaten Les Bleus at the Stade de France.

"Russia has always been a strong nation, playing a physical game," Zinedine Zidane, France's star player, said Monday.

Russia beat the world champions 3-2 in its last match at the Stade de France, a Euro 2000 qualifier.

"We found the method for beating France: keeping the ball, one-two passing, accelerating, striking, in real Russian style," Russia midfielder Alexei Smertin said of the 1999 game.

"The match remains a great memory for me and my country," the Bordeaux player said.

France beat Denmark 1-0 in a friendly last August. Since then, it hasn't met another side qualified for the World Cup, and its last match was a 5-0 thrashing of Scotland.

Now it faces a real test. Russia will likely prove harder to beat than any opponent France meets before its World Cup opener against Senegal. It plays Belgium next month and faces South Korea in a friendly five days before the May 31 start of the World Cup.

With Robert Pires missing because of a knee injury that will almost certainly sideline him for the World Cup, veteran midfielder Youri Djorkaeff was called up to join the French squad for Wednesday's game.

Nicolas Anelka will be hoping to prove he's worthy of a place in the World Cup squad in his first international game since last November's friendly against Australia. It's nearly a year since the 23-year-old Liverpool striker last scored for the world champions, in a 5-0 drubbing of South Korea last May at the Confederations Cup.

Both in club and international games, Anelka has yet to fulfill the potential he revealed when at Arsenal, scoring only two goals in 16 league matches with Liverpool. He faces competition for a World Cup spot from Fulham's Steve Marlet, who was called up this week after David Trezeguet was ruled out of the game with a slight thigh injury. Goalie Fabien Barthez was uncertain after hurting his knee in training.

Russia coach Oleg Romantsev has called up midfielder Valery Karpin, who scored the winner against France in 1999. But the team will be without injured defender Yury Kovtun and there were doubts about 18-year-old striker Dmitry Sychyov, who has an injured knee. Sychyov and his Spartak Moscow teammate Vladimir Beschastnykh, the leading scorer of the national team, are expected to be Russia's main offensive force.

Russia lost its last two matches, going down 2-0 against World Cup-qualifier Ireland before losing 2-1 to soccer minnow Estonia.

Russia plans to prepare for the World Cup with games against Yugoslavia, Ukraine and Belarus in Moscow a week before the team leaves for Japan.

Russia has plenty of talent but has yet to win a major title. It exited the 1994 World Cup in the first round and failed to qualify for France '98.

The U.S.S.R. team won the European Championship in 1960 and placed fourth in the 1966 World Cup.