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Can Zizou's France do it again?

French team makes it into final phase in Euro 2004 soccer championships in Portugal

France have rode their luck so far in Euro 2004. They earned some of their fortune, for instance, against England, where pressure, however feeble, against a defensive English team, was always likely to yield something in the end.

And Gerrard's wayward back pass in injury time while Henry was lurking was simply crying out to be punished, so the winning penalty was not entirely a freak.

England and France have since improved, particularly England. Can France hold on to the title they won so brilliantly in 2000? It will be tough. They have a great team on paper, though with weak points in key positions, in particular, defence. Unlike England, France seem to have very little cohesion, although the last 15 minutes of the final group game v Switzerland offered some hope.

The reason for that recovery? Probably Juventus striker Trezeguet's departure, which seemed to remove a burden from Henry...could it be a question of youthful rivalries as old and talented friends crowded each other out? It certainly seems that way, since Trezeguet, who is a lethal goal scorer usually, also seems to play his best football when Henry is not around. Whatever, Saha's inclusion late on in the Swiss game injected some momentum and stability up front, while freeing up Henry's spirit.

His second goal in particular was trade-mark Henry: skipping in from the left wing, on his right foot, slightly dummying a defender and then shooting low from 10 metres into the near corner. Like a gazelle, and with the certainty of a top basket-ball player, this was Afro-Latin at its best.

But while the attack may be in better stead, the defence remains a problem: the centre-back Sylvestre is very erratic, having given away two penalties and being responsible for a very loose clearance which led to the Swiss equaliser. He should be dropped.

Well, can we? ©DR

If Santini sticks with Saha, and puts in Auxerre's Boumsong in centre back, with, say, Rothen replacing the increasingly struggling Lizarazu (who would be a great sub), and if France can get their linking passes together going forward, it would be hard to stop them from progressing further, even winning the title.

For now, though, Zidane must make sure that his highly talented but sometimes over-confident French team-mates focus on defeating Greece. Not necessarily with "la maničre", but well, nonetheless.

©RJ Doyle

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