Euro 2004: First Round, Group B, Day 3

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
June 21st, 2004 • 9:38 am

Finally. Finally Thierry Henry has started scoring. And finally France has started scoring from open play and not a set piece — although Thierry’s second goal was mostly a solo effort, so they have yet to score a beautiful collective goal. But at least we are heading in the right direction…

However, there were still lots of things that were very wrong in today’s game against Switzerland. It was at times almost painful to watch. The only way that France could have convinced people that they are indeed capable of going all the way would have been a thorough thumping of the Swiss. Instead, we got one nicely headed goal by Zidane (from a set piece, of course) and… fizz. Nothing. They immediately reverted to their arrogant, overconfident playing — and were rightfully punished for it before half-time.

In the second half, Santini only made one change (Gallas for Sagnol), and I understand that it was not tactical. And unbelievably France were not able to lift their game. We were starting to face the very distinct possibility of France just scraping by with a 1-1 draw and finishing second in their group. Or even worse. After all, the defense wasn’t all that good, and the Swiss might have been able to snatch a second!

Finally Santini brought on some new, fresh blood, in the shape of Louis Saha, and things changed in an instant. Another set piece, a deflecting header by Saha, and Thierry finally shows what he’s capable of, with a beautiful control and a well-placed kick beyond the keeper with his outstretched leg. Still, it was a set piece. But at least there was some creativity involved.

Then Thierry hit his stride and made his second goal and the third for France all by himself with a nice run from the side and a cool finish. Good stuff — nothing extraordinary. The stuff that we are used to seeing day in day out from Thierry in the Premier League. With less than 20 minutes left to play, it put the game beyond the Swiss, and well, everyone fell asleep more or less after that.

So, not a good game for France by any stretch of the imagination — except for the result. There are still many, many adjustments to make. First of all, someone has to tell Santini to take Silvestre off. This guy is a walking disaster! The Swiss goal was once again his fault, with a bad pass that was too easily intercepted by the opposition and led directly to the goal. Silvestre has now been directly responsible for three of the five goals that France have conceded. Isn’t it enough? Desailly was taken off the team because of one bad defensive move that lead to Croatia’s second goal. What more does Santini need to see to make his decision?

More generally, we have a serious problem in the back with no towering figure in the centre. Thuram is doing an OK job, but he’s better on the side. Silvestre needs to be shipped back home. I am afraid Santini is going to have to take some risks and put some new players with less experience. It’s risky — but less than leaving Silvestre on the pitch.

On the offensive side, what happened today should be a clear indication to Santini that things still have to change. The Henry-Trezeguet partnership obviously isn’t working. Thierry is best when he comes from the side. Saha is relatively unknown in the French team and could bring some of that Rooney effect to the French side.

Fortunately for France, the quarter-final will not be a hugely challenging game against Portugal. But nothing can be taken for granted. The Greeks are delighted to have gone that far and will be full of confidence, even after their slip against Russia. They are just as dangerous as Croatia — and look at what happened there.

I hope that Thierry Henry will continue to improve and play a bigger part. He’s now opened his account and done some of the stuff he knew he was going to have to do. But he has yet to completely overwhelm a defense. And he has yet to perform against big opposition. Of course this won’t happen until the semi-final, if we get there. But he needs to shine in that game against Greece. Big time. As for Trezeguet, well, he’s mostly a poacher, so Santini shouldn’t hesitate to keep him on the bench and only bring him on when needed, as was done in the final against Italy four years ago.

The England – Croatia game that was taking place at the same time was far more entertaining and satisfying. There’ll still be some concern about the English defense, but at least it was counterbalanced by lots of attacking play and, of course, the Rooney phenomenon. I am afraid he’s completely overshadowing Michael Owen, and Beckham is being reduced to a bit-part player, the way things are going. Not that the English care. They seem to be in the process of finding a winning formula. They could still go far — but of course there’s the Portugal hurdle on Thursday first!

One Response to “Euro 2004: First Round, Group B, Day 3”

  1. Chris Laprun says:

    I totally agree with you with respect to the fact that Silvestre must go. I was watching the game with friends earlier today and we were holding our breath each time the Swiss attack would get near him… We were actually surprised that he didn’t manage to fault in the box, resulting in yet another penalty kick! :) His only saving grace today was that he kicked the free-kick that led to Saha’s header and Henry’s goal.
    France might be a favorite to win the tournament but the way they’re currently playing, they might get beaten by Greece. :(

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