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Group B: France Qualified as winner of Group 1
France bounce back from World Cup flop to try again

The World Cup debacle is behind them; France are back and ready to hold on to the European Championship title they won in 2000.

Since losing their world title with their nightmare showing at the 2002 World Cup, France have won 18 of their 22 matches, lost only once, scored 57 goals and conceded only eight.

The European champions showed impressive form by winning all their Euro 2004 qualifiers and will be looking for another perfect run to victory in the finals in Portugal.

The French have quickly consigned those qualifying successes to the history books and are now fine-tuning their build-up in their friendlies before the start of the finals.

They have been drawn in Group B with Croatia, Switzerland and England whom they will meet in their opener on June 12.

"Playing England will be a kind of derby for us because there are so many players in the English premier league," said coach Jacques Santini.

"We are pleased - and worried - because it is never easy to start by playing a big team like England," said Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira.

The champions' warm-up series started in November with a convincing 3-0 win over old foes Germany in Gelsenkirchen followed by a well-deserved 2-0 victory over Belgium in February which stretched their winning sequence to 14 straight matches -- a French record.

But their assault on a world-record 15th successive international victory floundered at the end of March when they gave an uninspired performance to draw 0-0 with the Netherlands in Rotterdam.

Santini was unperturbed that the FIFA Centenary match against world champions Brazil at the Stade de France last Thursday also ended in a goalless draw.

"We don't have to be either happy or disappointed. I always said this game was not the one we considered as the most important in our preparation," Santini said.

The French have been beaten only once since Santini took over from Roger Lemerre in July 2002, when they lost 2-0 to the Czech Republic in a friendly at the Stade de France in February 2003.

But France were unbeatable when it really mattered, although Group One was among the weakest of the 10 qualifying groups with Malta and Cyprus not in the top 80 of the FIFA rankings and Israel and Slovenia mid-ranking nations at best. France duly made the most of it.

After a sluggish start in Cyprus, where they won 2-1, the French thrashed the Cypriots 5-0 in Paris and humiliated Malta 4-0 and 6-0.

They proved solid when it came to sealing their finals place in the small, hostile Central Stadium in Ljubljana, matching the gifted Slovenians with only 10 men and winning 2-0.

On the surface little seems to have changed since the world champions were eliminated in the first round in South Korea, failing to win or even score a goal with Juventus's prolific David Trezeguet and Arsenal's Thierry Henry up front.

They will probably be without the league's top scorer Djibril Cisse, who was given a five-match ban for kicking an opponent during an under-21 game against Portugal.

But Les Bleus can count on other gifted strikers such as Manchester United's Louis Saha, who scored on his international debut against Belgium.

France, however, have regained their confidence and self-esteem this season.

The team against Slovenia was full of familiar names -- nine of the 11 who played were also in the side that lost 2-0 to Denmark in France's last game at the 2002 World Cup.

On the plus side too, the French have learned that they can play -- and win -- without Zinedine Zidane, arguably the most inspirational player in world soccer.

Since Santini became coach, France have played eight of their 22 games without Zidane. They have won seven of them and drawn once, scoring 20 goals and conceding four.

Life without Zidane is now a bearable possibility, which was not the case in the 2002 World Cup when the country was gripped with anxiety after "Zizou" had to pull out of France's first two games against Senegal and Uruguay through injury.

Without Zidane, France also won the Confederations Cup, beating World Cup semi-finalists Turkey in the last four before taming African champions Cameroon in the final.

They booked their Euro 2004 place against Slovenia with eight 1998 world champions in the starting 11.

But they now have battle-hardened reserves who could make a difference in Portugal as the schedule will be tighter than in a World Cup.
- Reuters

 « Star Player »

Name Thierry Henry

Wenger brings out the best in France's Henry

Once known for his blinding pace and little else, France's Thierry Henry arrives at Euro 2004 next month as probably the best all-round striker in world football.
Now considered by FIFA as one of the top three players in the beautiful game, Henry's transformation from a bit-part player on Juventus's left wing to a centre-stage role with Arsenal has more than a touch of the fairytale about it...   [more]
 « Star Player »

Name Zinedine Zidane
Real Madrid

Zizou set to grace the big stage for last time

France went down on their knees at the 2002 World Cup because Zinedine Zidane injured his thigh a few days before the start of the tournament.
French fans might also kneel, this time as a testimony of admiration, if the balding playmaker leaves his mark on the European Championship as he did in the 1998 World Cup final or the 2002 Champions League final.
With the Euro 2004 finals starting next month, the soft-spoken Zidane will have the opportunity to...   [more]


 « The Coach »
Stubborn Santini revives France's 1998 winning spirit
Ever since Aime Jacquet led France to World Cup victory in 1998, French managers have all seemed to come from the same mould and Jacques Santini, a stubborn and aloof character appears at first glance to be no exception.
In terms of media communication -- or lack of it -- the former St Etienne player has perfectly grasped the baton passed from Jacquet to Roger Lemerre, Santini's immediate predecessor.
In getting France to Portugal, the former Olympique Lyon manager also relied on the players who formed the backbone of the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winning campaigns.
Zinedine Zidane, Marcel Desailly, Patrick Vieira, Fabien Barthez, Thierry Henry, Bixente Lizarazu, Lilian Thuram and David Trezeguet are likely to be the key players again next month.
But unlike Lemerre, who built on the 1998 success to lead France to Euro 2000 victory but failed to rejuvenate the squad in 2002, Santini has bedded in fresh talent, including Sochaux midfielder Benoit Pedretti.
At the 2002 World Cup, when France, as defending champions, suffered a humiliating first-round exit, Lemerre was content with doubling up every position.
By contrast, Santini, who had just led Lyon to their first league title when he was appointed in July 2002, put various tactical plans into place and now has more options.
His major achievement was probably to prove that France could live without the mercurial talents of Zidane.
The Real Madrid playmaker's injury in South Korea was seen as one of the reasons for France's failure at the World Cup and Lemerre never seemed to find a suitable replacement.
Since Santini took over, France have played eight of their 22 games without Zidane. They have won seven and drawn one of them, scoring 20 goals and conceding four.
With Pedretti, Arsenal's Robert Pires and Chelsea's Claude Makelele, Santini has benefited from players able to step in.
The result has been impressive. The French won all of their eight Euro qualifiers and the squad's senior players admitted they could feel a positive change.
"Our game of old has returned and there is a feeling we had gradually lost after the 1998 World Cup," said Zidane.


 « The Squad »


Players DOB Club Cap Goal
Jacques Santini C 25.04.1952
16. Fabien Barthez G 28.06.1971 Marseille
23. Grégory Coupet G 31.12.1972 Lyon
1. Mickaël Landreau G 14.05.1979 Nantes
2. Jean-Alain Boumsong D 14.12.1979 Auxerre
8. Marcel Desailly D 07.09.1968 Chelsea
5. William Gallas D 17.08.1977 Chelsea
3. Bixente Lizarazu D 09.12.1969 Bayern
19. Willy Sagnol D 18.03.1977 Bayern
13. Mikael Silvestre D 09.08.1977 Man Utd
15. Lilian Thuram D 01.01.1972 Juventus
17. Olivier Dacourt M 25.09.1974 Roma
6. Claude Makelele M 18.02.1973 Chelsea
18. Benoît Pedretti M 12.11.1980 Sochaux
7. Robert Pires M 29.01.1973 Arsenal
14. Jérôme Rothen M 31.03.1978 Monaco
4. Patrick Vieira M 23.06.1976 Arsenal
10. Zinedine Zidane M 23.06.1972 Real Madrid
12. Thierry Henry F 17.08.1977 Arsenal
21. Steve Marlet F 10.01.1974 Marseille
19. Louis Saha F 08.08.1978 Man Utd
20. David Trezeguet F 15.10.1977 Juventus
22. Sidney Govou F 27.07.1979 Lyon
11. Sylvain Wiltord F 10.05.1974 Arsenal



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Federation Federation Francaise de Football (1919)

Headquarter 60 bis, Avenue d'Iena - 75783 Parigi


President Claude Simonet
Best Performance in Finals
Champions in 1984 & 2000
Recent record in Finals
1980 DNQ
1984 Champinons
1988 DNQ
1992 Round-1
1996 Semi-Final
2000 Champions


 « Road to Portugal »


v Cyprus
v Slovenia
v Malta
v Malta
v Israel
v Cyprus
v Slovenia
v Israel


 « Final Tournament »

B v England

   2045 CET 13 June 2004

B v Croatia

   2045 CET 17 June 2004

B v Switzerland

   2045 CET 21 June 2004


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