England v France Match Report

Last updated : 16 June 2004 By The Govanhill Gub

The fact is the way this match ended tonight here in Benfica's all new, super-duper upgraded Stadium was as painful a defeat as I can ever remember England being subjected to. However no one should harbour any illusions that this was a hit-and-run result in favour of the reigning European Champions.

Of course the English squad will point to the 72nd penalty miss by David Beckham as the pivotal point in the match and so they should. But penalties are there to be converted and it is hardly the French side's fault that the ridiculously over hyped Beckham struck out.

The French signalled their intent straight from the kick-off and had forced an opening in the very first minute of the match. In the opening exchanges it looked as though Pires was in the mood and he seemed to have struck up an immediate understanding with his London compadre Gallas down the French right. So much for Ashley Cole's pre-match warblings about keeping his Highbury team mate out of the game.

It was all France in the opening stages, without them ever looking truly threatening. This was interspersed by a bullish run from youngster Rooney on 5 minutes that gave Owen a glimpse of a ball to run onto that was ultimately to no avail. Certainly it was the youngster from the blue half of Merseyside who caught the eye whilst his striking partner from Anfield appeared to be posted missing.

There can be no doubt that the play was moving mainly towards the English goal without France being overly dangerous. First Zidane had a free shot from about 20 yards or so that sailed wide to James' left. Then Juventus' Trezerguet had a glancing header from a Zidane cross that sailed just over round about the 20th minute mark but that was as near as the French came to opening the scoring. All the pre match fears about the importance of the occasion overshadowing the actual football were proving to be correct.

There was one piece of sublime skill however from Zidane midway through the half that surely merits a mention. The Real Madrid man picked up the ball with Frank Lampard in close attention and he then proceeded to bamboozle the Chelsea midfielder with some two-footed sorcery that left the England man with no option but to bring him to the ground with a crude challenge. Luckily for Lampard he did not receive the booking his foul deserved but the look of contempt Zidane reserved for his assailant spoke volumes.

For the record, Lampard's booking would come later in the second half after a run that consisted of pulling and tugging at Viera all over the shop for about thirty yards. Lampard is a likeable player whose game has improved out of all recognition these last twelve months but football wise he will never be a match for these French masters.

Then in the 38th minute England took the lead through a magnificent bulleted header from Lampard. Throwing himself at a superb inswinging cross from Beckham it had goal written all over it as soon as the ball struck his head. Barthez was rooted to the spot and really; there was nothing anyone could do to stop this one.

So here we had England trooping in at half time one goal to the good. Whilst not being exactly out played in the first half it is too much to say that they were deserving of the lead. But that's football for you. It is goals rather than possession that count.

Certainly England had not been firing on all cylinders up front but there can be no denying that their defence with Tottenham rookie, Ledley King, exceeding all expectations alongside ex team mate Sol Campbell, were deserving of any praise that came their way. The fact is despite all their possession they had limited this French side to half chances and long distance shots.

It is fair to say that the second half was not so much a game of football as a footballing equivalent of the Alamo. Time and again England were only too happy to boot the ball away anywhere, which in turn invited the French to once again come at them in waves. It has to be said however that France were now being bogged down and were reduced to getting forward up to a certain point and then throwing in a hopeful cross.

Then on 72 minutes England had a chance to put the result of this match beyond doubt. Rooney won the ball just inside his own half and with a wonderful surging run, which took him to the French penalty box he was left with two options. Pass the ball to the unmarked Vassell, who had replaced the luckless Owen, or try his luck one on one v Silvestre. The youngster opted for the latter and Silvestre had no option but to send the Evertonian tumbling to the ground.

It was a clear penalty yet strangely the referee decided that a booking for the French defender was punishment enough. It was a baffling decision and you do have to ask, if referees at this tournament have now been instructed to ignore the laws of the game shouldn't the footballing public be made aware of this new softly softly approach?

Anyway here came the moment of truth. Up stepped Beckham to the plate but despite hitting the ball cleanly and with some force to the goalkeeper's right hand side, Barthez was more than a match for it and a magnificent save saw the ball rebound out wide to safety. The effect on both sets of players was clearly visible. The French breathed a sigh of relief and English shoulders seemed to drop.

The rest of the match carried on as before with the French laying siege to the English goal without carving out any clear-cut chances. Then came the last extraordinary two minutes of added-on time.

Ninety-one minutes were on the clock when Heskey, who had replaced Rooney, inexplicably gave away a needless free-kick on the edge of the England penalty box. The implication of the impending award was clear. If England could keep this ball out then the game was won and a priceless three points would have been gathered.

But cometh the hour and cometh the man and up stepped Zidane who curled an unstoppable shot by the hapless David James who stood rooted to the spot. It was a superb piece of skill under pressure but if truth be told it was no more than the French deserved.

Yet unbelievably this match had one more twist in the tail. The clock was moving towards the last few seconds when inexplicably, Steven Gerrard, who had been one of England's unsung heroes on the night, was woefully short with a diabolical back pass that let Thierry Henry in on goal. Goalkeeper James was left with no option but to upend the Arsenal striker and a penalty was the only option open to the referee.

Once again there was the unfathomable decision that a booking was enough punishment for the goalkeeper as opposed to a sending off, which would have been automatic if James had committed the same crime in England.

So here we had the quite unbelievable sight of England going from playing out time on Ninety-one minutes and losing the game just One hundred and twenty seconds later. This time there was to be no mistake from the spot as Zidane showed his Real Madrid team mate how to take a penalty kick under pressure sending James the wrong way.

There was barely enough time for England to kick off when the final whistle was blown. Truly this was one of the most sensational finishes to any high profile match that you are likely to see. The obvious comparison would be Man Utd's sensational finish v Bayern Munich in Barcelona 5 years previously. The difference being France's performance deserved this result, Man Utd did not.

The reactions of both sides at full time could not have been more marked. The French celebrated as if they had won the actual trophy once again and the English players trudged off shaking hands with opponents and colleagues alike in a state of disbelief.

Heroes and villains in tonight's match? England were served well by their central defensive pairing of Campbell and King, as well as the selfless Gary Neville. Up front Rooney played a man's part and ran his heart out for the cause.

As for France? No one should be under any illusion; this WAS a massive result for them. It is true that they didn't deserve to lose this game but without that extraordinary last One-hundred and twenty seconds then the fact is if you take into account their disastrous performances in the 2002 World Cup, then they would have been looking at their fourth major tournament match in succession without a victory. Is it any wonder their players were singing in the bath after this match?

So can this English squad dust themselves down and get on with the job in hand to dispense with the sterile Swiss and the uninspiring Croats? If not then they shouldn't be in Portugal.


England - James, Neville, Cole, King, Campbell, Scholes, (Hargreaves) Lampard, Gerrard, Beckham, Rooney (Heskey) Owen (Vassel)

France - Barthez, Gallas, Lizarazu, Thuram, Silvestre, (Sagnol) Viera, Zidane, Pires, (Wiltord) Makelele, (Dacourt) Trezrguet, Henry