Zinedine Zidane says coaching France remains a career goal of his but remains confident Real Madrid can achieve "great things" this season.

The Madrid boss has seen his position come under scrutiny this season after some high-profile defeats, but he thinks success in LaLiga and the Champions League remains possible.

Zidane has regularly been linked with managing his native France, with incumbent head coach Didier Deschamps recently tipping him to succeed him in the role.

French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet, meanwhile, has said Zidane would be the first person he would call should he ever need to replace Deschamps.

Ahead of Madrid's home match with Valencia on Sunday, Zidane was open about his aspirations.

"I am passionate about football and you never know about the future," he said.

"My relationship with Mr Le Graet is long, since 1998.

"The national team is a goal, like I said when I started coaching 10 years ago, but now I'm here.

"We will see. My mind is here. I am at Madrid and I enjoy every day."

Zidane added: "We know the pressure that comes with representing Real Madrid. We do our own thing, what we can control.

"We know we can achieve great things and we are going to put all our energy into these two [remaining] competitions."

Madrid are eyeing a fourth win in five matches when they host mid-table Valencia.

But after winning the reverse fixture 4-1, Valencia are looking to complete a league double over Madrid for the first time since 1967-68 season.

To do that, they will need to end a long streak.

Madrid have avoided defeat in their past 12 home LaLiga games against Valencia (seven wins and five draws) since a 3-2 loss in March 2008, and they have scored at least two goals in nine of them.

Fabien Galthie has promised France are prepared for whatever "chaos" they might encounter as they prepare to tackle Ireland in Dublin.

The thumping 50-10 win over Italy in Rome last week gave France a fast start to their Six Nations campaign, but they were always expected to win comfortably there, and taking on Ireland is a very different prospect.

Galthie has made two changes to his starting XV for Sunday's game, bringing in wing Damien Penaud and flanker Anthony Jelonch for Teddy Thomas and Dylan Cretin.

France are looking for back-to-back wins over Ireland in the Six Nations for the first time since 2010-11, having beaten them in Paris in October, but Les Bleus have lost five of the past seven encounters between the teams in the championship.

However, Galthie feels France are shaping up as an increasingly formidable force, saying: "You just have to look at the results. We won eight out of 10 matches."

The defeats in that sequence cited by Galthie came with 14 men at Murrayfield in last year's Six Nations, and in sudden death to England in the Autumn Nations Cup.

"In Scotland we lost following a red card and in London we lost in extra time. We are doing it the right way, we continue our march," Galthie said. "We will continue to make progress in many areas. We have a significant space for improvement.

"You have to be prepared for any challenge, anywhere and against anyone. You have to prepare to experience chaos with as much solidity as possible.

"This is what we prepare for without forgetting to face the unexpected."

Galthie believes Penaud may be an ideal physical fit for the task of stopping Ireland, and he said of Jelonch: "He has this ability to be tough in combat, moreover the more the intensity rises, the more he becomes dominant."

 

France: Brice Dulin, Damien Penaud, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou, Gabin Villiere, Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Paul Willemse, Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Pierre Bourgarit, Hassane Kolingar, Uini Atonio, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Anthony Bouthier, Teddy Thomas.

Ireland will be without Johnny Sexton for Sunday's visit of France in the Six Nations after their captain suffered a blow to the head against Wales. 

Sexton underwent return-to-play protocols after the incident in the loss but has not been cleared to play. 

The news comes after Sexton hit out at a French doctor who claimed the fly-half had suffered approximately 30 concussions in his career, with neurologist Dr Jean-Francois Chermann subsequently apologising. 

Billy Burns will start instead for Andy Farrell's side, who lost 21-16 in Cardiff, with Jamison Gibson-Park also in the XV as scrum-half Conor Murray sits it out with a hamstring injury. 

The captain's armband goes to Iain Henderson for the first time, with the suspended Peter O'Mahony replaced by Rhys Ruddock following his red card in the Welsh capital. 

James Ryan also sustained a blow to the head in that game and, like Sexton, will be absent this weekend.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Billy Burns, Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter; Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson; Rhys Ruddock, Josh Van der Flier, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Ed Byrne, Tadhg Furlong, Ultan Dillane, Will Connors, Craig Casey, Ross Byrne, Jordan Larmour.

 

Buoyant Scotland will go in search of back-to-back wins over Wales for the first time in 18 years and France travel to Ireland for a mouthwatering Six Nations showdown this weekend.

Scotland ended a 38-year wait for a win at Twickenham on the opening weekend with a dominant 11-6 defeat of the defending champions.

Gregor Townsend's side need to follow that up on Saturday with a victory over a Wales side that got the better of 14-man Ireland at the Principality Stadium following Peter O'Mahony's first-half red card.

France started the tournament by hammering Italy 50-10, but will face a bigger test in Dublin, while England should respond to their Calcutta Cup defeat by beating Italy at home on Saturday.

Ahead of the second round, we preview the upcoming matches with help from Opta.

 

ENGLAND v ITALY

FORM

The Red Rose have won each of their 21 fixtures against Italy in the Six Nations, and they are the only team yet to suffer defeat against the Azzurri in the championship.

England have hosted Italy on 10 occasions in the Six Nations, winning each of those 10 fixtures by an average margin of 31 points and scoring 5.6 tries per game.

Italy have won just twice away from home in the Six Nations (losing 50 and drawing one), with both victories coming against Scotland at Murrayfield (2007 and 2015).

 

ONES TO WATCH

George Ford comes into the England side, with captain Owen Farrell moving to outside centre, in one of five changes to the side, and the fly-half will be ready to make a statement after being named on the bench for the loss to Scotland.

Italy endured a torrid start to the competition, but Luca Sperandio scored a fine try. The wing had seven carries and made 52 metres. The Azzurri will need to get Sperandio flying down the flank again in London.

 

SCOTLAND v WALES

FORM

Scotland were superb against England and will be aiming for consecutive wins over Wales in the Six Nations for the first time since 2002-2003.

Wales had an extra man, but Ireland could consider themselves unfortunate to go down 21-16 in Cardiff. The Welsh have lost their last six Tests away from home and will be in for another huge battle at Murrayfield.

They have conceded 30 points per game in that miserable sequence of matches on their travels.

 

ONES TO WATCH

Captain Stuart Hogg was man of the match in a rousing performance from Scotland against Eddie Jones' men. The full-back made 112 metres and had 13 carries. He was also brilliant with the boot, kicking for 367 metres.

Louis Rees-Zammit showed why he is so highly rated in Wales' win over Ireland. He dived to finish magnificently in the corner as Wayne Pivac's side made a winning start at home last Sunday.

 

IRELAND v FRANCE

FORM

Flanker O'Mahony's reckless dismissal proved to be costly for Andy Farrell's Ireland side in Cardiff. They will be looking to avoid suffer back-to-back losses to Les Bleus in the Six Nations, having not endured such a fate since 2010-11.

Ireland have won five of their last seven clashes with France in the Six Nations (L2) after winning only four of their 30 previous meetings with them in the Five/Six Nations (D3 L23).

 

ONES TO WATCH

Antoine Dupont was the player of the opening round of the tournament. The mercurial scrum-half assisted four tries, the joint-most by any player in a Six Nations match, equalling the record set by Frederic Michalak against Italy in 2006. He also scored a try of his own in a sublime performance.

Ireland lock Tadhg Beirne made the most carries (21) of any player in the opening round. He also hit the most rucks of any player (48) and was Ireland’s joint-highest tackler (10, level with CJ Stander).

Aaron Smith says Antoine Dupont is "on another level" to any other player in the world as the mercurial scrum-half strives to end France's Six Nations title drought.

Dupont tormented Italy in the first match of the tournament, proving four assists – equalling compatriot Frederic Michalak's record for a single Six Nations match – and scoring a try of his own in a 50-10 rout at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.

The playmaker became the seventh man to lay on three or more tries in a game in the competition, also joining Michalak and former number nine Austin Healey as the only players to have been directly involved in five tries in a match in this tournament. 

Dupont was a constant menace to the Azzurri as he pulled the strings in a livewire display before he was given the chance to put his feet up just before the hour mark.

New Zealand scrum-half Smith, who has earned 97 caps and won the Rugby World Cup in 2015, rates the 24-year-old Toulouse pivot as being a cut above any other player on the planet.

Responding to a tweet from the Six Nations official account asking who is the best player in the world, Smith posted: "@Dupont9A this guy is on another level!

"No one is near him atm. He's the point of difference for both his club and country. He's helping me look at parts of my game to improve. #Respect #9Gang"

Ireland will have to keep Dupont quiet at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday when they look to get up and running following a 21-16 defeat to Wales in Cardiff.

England start their quest to retain the Six Nations title against Scotland on Saturday just over three months after they were crowned champions. 

The Red Rose dethroned Wales at the end of October, pipping France on points difference in a dramatic finale to a tournament that ended almost nine months after it started due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Eddie Jones' side are favourites to win the competition again, but Les Bleus are also well fancied to end an 11-year wait for Six Nations glory and face Italy in the first match. 

England do battle with Scotland for the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham, with Wales and Ireland locking horns in Cardiff on Sunday. 

Ahead of the opening round, we preview the upcoming matches with help from Opta.

ITALY v FRANCE

FORM

France have won 19 of their 21 previous Six Nations matches against Italy (L2), including their last seven in a row. Their two defeats in that time both came in Rome, in 2011 and 2013.  

Italy have lost their last 27 Six Nations matches, the longest losing streak in the history of the competition. Their last victory came at Murrayfield against Scotland in 2015, while they have not won at home since 2013. 

Les Bleus achieved a cumulative points difference of +31 in the first 20 minutes of their 2020 Six Nations matches. No other side managed a positive double-digit points difference in that period of matches, but Italy had a -39 difference. 

ONES TO WATCH

France wing Teddy Thomas scored a try in his last Test against Italy and is capable of lighting up the tournament. He can get off to a storming start in Rome.

Paolo Garbisi caught the eye at fly-half last year after being handed his debut against Ireland in October. Hopefully for his country, there is still much more to come from the 20-year-old.

ENGLAND v SCOTLAND

FORM

The last time England hosted Scotland in the Six Nations they drew 38-38 two years ago. Scotland clawed back the biggest ever half-time deficit (-24 pts, 7-31) by a side to avoid defeat in the tournament’s history, almost snatching victory before a late George Ford try denied them. 

Scotland have never beaten England at Twickenham in the Six Nations (D1, L9), their last victory against them the Red Rose at the London venue came in 1983 in the Five Nations (22-12).  

Gregor Townsend's side concluded the 2020 edition by winning their last three games in a row, their best run in the Championship since Italy joined in 2000. 

ONES TO WATCH

England captain Owen Farrell has scored exactly 1,000 Test points, one of just six men to reach that milestone. He is just four points away from reaching a century against Scotland.

Finn Russell returns to the Scotland side and the creativity provided by the fly-half will be key for Townsend's men.

WALES v IRELAND

FORM

Wales have lost their last two home games in the Six Nations, the last time they suffered three consecutive defeats at home was in 2002-03. Wayne Pivac's side have lost their last four games in the competition, their worst streak since 2006-07 (L5).  

No team scored more tries than Ireland in the Six Nations last year (17, along with France), four of those were launched from the back of a scrum. Wales (2) were the only other side to score multiple tries following a scrum.  

Ireland scored seven tries in the final quarter of their fixtures in 2020, more than any other side. Wales, meanwhile, scored the joint-second most in that period (6, level with England). 

ONES TO WATCH

Louis Rees-Zammit turned 20 this week and the Wales wing can celebrate in style with a livewire display at the Principality Stadium.

Ireland centre Garry Ringrose had terrible luck with injuries last year, but he is ready to fire on all cylinders in 2021.

Tottenham midfielder Tanguy Ndombele is open to joining Paris Saint-Germain in the future after revealing he has previously discussed a move with Kylian Mbappe.

France international Ndombele joined Tottenham from Lyon for a club-record fee reported to be around £63million in July 2019, ending long-running links with a switch to PSG.

He endured a difficult first campaign in north London but performances have improved in 2020-21, the 24-year-old featuring 26 times for Spurs in all competitions.

Ndombele remains under contract with Tottenham until 2025 and, while not actively seeking a transfer, he is not ruling out the prospect of returning to France with PSG, where ex-Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is now in charge.

"I'm a boy from the Paris region. Wearing the Paris jersey one day? Why not. But today I'm at Tottenham, and it's going well," he told Telefoot.

"I spoke with Kylian about possibly coming to PSG - two or three years in a row we discussed it. It didn't happen and today at Tottenham it's going well, but why not in the future?"

Ndombele was left out of Tottenham's squad on occasions last season, but he has been praised by boss Jose Mourinho for working hard off the field to become a regular.

He ranks particularly high for dribbles, completing an average of 3.02 per game in the Premier League this term.

That places the midfielder behind only Christian Pulisic (3.28), Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa (3.53), Allan Saint-Maximin (4.66) and Adama Traore (5.24) among those to have played at least 10 games.

With his brace against Wycombe Wanderers in the FA Cup last Monday, Ndombele became the first Spurs player to score at least twice in a match as a substitute since Roman Pavlyuchenko against Birmingham City in May 2011.

Reflecting on a mixed time at Tottenham, Ndombele said: "It was tough. I questioned myself a lot, but now the page is turned.

"It's true that at a certain moment I wanted to leave, I didn't feel in the right place. I told them I wanted out. They didn't want me to go."

Ndombele is hopeful his form could see him earn a first appearance for France since June 2019 with the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament on the horizon.

"Of course I miss the France team," he said. "As a competitor we want to be one of the best.

"The European Championship remains a goal in the back of my mind. If I do well at club level, why not be called up?"

Didier Deschamps has tipped Zinedine Zidane to "go full circle" by succeeding him as head coach of the France national team.

Zidane is in his second spell as Real Madrid boss and finds himself under intense pressure following Wednesday's defeat to third-tier side Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey, a week on from losing to Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals.

He was part of France's World Cup-winning squad in 1998 and has long been touted as the leading contender to replace his former team-mate Deschamps when the 52-year-old's deal expires next year.

It is a job Deschamps, who guided Les Blues to World Cup success in 2018, can see Zidane taking in the near future.

Asked in an interview with BFMTV if Zidane could be his successor, Deschamps replied: "Yes, obviously.

"I know this will be discussed again and it makes sense. It would be like going full circle."

Since bringing an end to his trophy-laden playing career and taking over at Madrid in 2016, Zidane has won 11 trophies, including the Champions League three seasons running.

"He always had a decisive element to his game and I never had a problem with that," Deschamps said. "Afterwards, everything he has done... Zizou is Zizou."

As well as winning the 2018 World Cup, Deschamps also guided France to the European Championship final two years earlier, when they were beaten by Portugal on home soil.

The reigning world champions will face Hungary, Portugal and Germany in the rescheduled Euro 2020 finals later this year.

French Rugby Federation (FFR) president Bernard Laporte says there is "no question" that the Six Nations will be staged this year.

The Telegraph this weekend reported that the tournament was in doubt after the French sports ministry imposed a ban on playing cross-border elite sports with clubs from the United Kingdom due to a new strain of coronavirus.

With the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup reportedly set to be suspended, the French government and Six Nations officials are expected to hold talks on Monday.

Yet Laporte does not believe there is any doubt that the competition, which starts in just four weeks' time, can be staged. 

He told RMC on Sunday: "It's a puzzle, but I think we should not be alarmed for the Six Nations tournament.

"The tournament will be played, with a health protocol dictated by the government, and linked to this mutant virus. Everything went well in the autumn [when the Autumn Nations Cup was staged], so will the upcoming Six Nations tournament, I'm no more worried than that."

The former Les Bleus coach added: "We have a meeting at the beginning of the week with the ministry of sports, a meeting also with the Six Nations Council.

"But we already talked to each other every day, and today there is no question of considering anything, except that we will play the tournament."

France are due to face Italy in the first game of the Six Nations at Stadio Olimpico on February 6.

Karim Benzema will stand trial for his alleged involvement in an attempted blackmail case targeting former France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape.

Prosecutors in Versailles confirmed the development regarding the Real Madrid striker and four others on Thursday, according to reports in France.

Benzema, who denies any wrongdoing, was charged in 2015 in relation to the incident. He previously appealed against the charge but is now set for trial.

"The decision to take this to trial is absurd and unfair," Sylvain Cormier, his lawyer, told EFE. "Benzema doesn't have anything to be blamed for."

Paul-Albert Iweins, Valbuena's counsel, told L'Equipe the decision was "the logical continuation of the instruction which perfectly established the participation of the various people".

The incident has since seen Benzema exiled from the France national team.

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