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French focus for Henry
With the Premiership, FA Cup and Champions League titles still to fight for, Arsenal striker Thierry Henry cannot expect much respite in the remaining months of the season.
Friday, 27 February 2004


The first name on the team-sheet for Arsenal after a terrific season in front of goal, the quick, powerful striker has also been pounding the pitch for France with a view to showcasing his skills at this summer's EURO 2004 finals. However, he is wary that too much match practice in the next few months may not necessarily work in his favour. 

"You need to be fresh," he told "Look at the 2002 World Cup, when so many great teams went out early. The likes of Italy and Argentina, as well as France, looked like they couldn't play the ball they were all so tired. The team who can win EURO 2004 will be the one with the freshest players. It makes such a difference in this kind of competition." 

A striker of Henry's quality and current form could also make all the difference for France in Portugal. Named in users' Team of 2003 after a series of devastating displays for Arsenal, the powerhouse forward now looks every bit as vital to France's plans for EURO 2004 as the mighty Zinedine Zidane. 

Revived under Jacques Santini, France have made a complete recovery from their dismal attempt to defend their World Cup title in 2002. Qualifying for Portugal with a 100 per cent record and a flurry of goals, they sent out a clear message to their opponents that Les Bleus are back in business. "We had to respond," said Henry succinctly. 

The striker knows his side must defend their European crown with more guile than they did the World Cup. "Everyone is expecting that," he said. "We all hope we won't fail like we did in the World Cup. But one thing is sure, we can win again or we can fail it again, you never know with football. It is full of surprises." 

With an embarrassment of riches in midfield and attack, the only question mark hanging over France is the defence, which has had to move on from the legendary unit which peaked in 1998 and 2000. Henry is not worried, though. "We conceded only two goals in qualifying, so we have some good defenders," he said. 

However, Henry would like to see one more good striker join the squad in the shape of Nicolas Anelka, whose rift with Santini rumbles on. "I know Nicolas and I know what a shame it is for his career that he is not in the national team," said Henry. "I don't know what is going to happen but I hope they are going to sort it out between him and the coach. Things look quite good." 

If Santini and Anelka can make peace, Henry could yet see the glorious celebrations that greeted France's 1998 World Cup win - which he watched from the bench - repeated again this summer. 

"The day after the World Cup final, I was watching TV and saw, on the Champs-Elysées, guys in suits getting out of their Mercedes to party with total strangers dressed in their underwear, and letting them dance on their car bonnets," said Henry. "I said to myself: 'It is fabulous to see Paris and the whole of France come together'." 
- Amy Lawrence




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