Fitful France advance
Monday 24 June 1996
After the Oohs and the Aahs of Anfield's Saturday night shoot-out, Aime Jacquet's French team now have to put their record on the line at Old Trafford. On the evidence of their quarter-final against Guus Hiddink's revived Orangemen, Les Bleus could be in for a tough time at the spiritual home of Eric the unwanted Red.
While not quite as pallid as their change strip, France's subdued performance cried out in need of the inspiration of England's Footballer of the Year might have provided. Their unbeaten run extended to 27 matches, and a place in the Manchester semi-final on Wednesday, thanks in equal measure to their goalkeeper and the Spanish referee.
Bernard Lama's vital block at the Kop end took the Dutch into extra time and his save in the same goalmouth effectively won the penalties decider. Clarence Seedorf, the man denied on both occasions by the veteran French keeper, left the pitch shedding tears that might have been tinged with as much bitterness as sheer disappointment.
A nation's expectation weighed heavily enough on the 20-year-old midfielder's shoulders, the more so considering his leading role in the bickering which has riven the Dutch camp in Euro 96. It was little surprise that his composure crumbled after the pedantic Antonio Lopez Nieto ordered him to reposition the ball as he strode forward to take his kick.
Senor Lopez Nieto made an equally crucial and misguided decision seven minutes from the end of normal time, awarding the Netherlands a free-kick outside the French box after Marcel Desailly clearly handled Seedorf's left-wing cross to Patrick Kluivert inside the area. Hiddink could also reflect with frustration on the free-kick that followed, the deflected Philip Cocu piledriver which hit a post.
"These are important details," Hiddink said, referring to the key moments which swung against his spirited side. "But you can't avoid the reality. We played badly in our qualifying games and we missed good chances to score tonight. The only consolation is that the players showed such a good reaction after the England result."
Hiddink's players also showed that the fancied French are vulnerable. It was not a bad performance by Jacquet's men. Laurent Blanc was a defensive colossus as well as the cool converter of the clinching penalty kick. And Youri Djorkaeff probed with sublime perception at times without ever threatening to rip holes in the Dutch dyke.
France played with their customary composure but lacked the dynamic spark Cantona could have given them. Their blunt attacking edge was evident in the squandering of their best chance, when Zinedine Zidane and Djorkaeff contrived to pass up the sitter Winston Bogarde gave them after 14 minutes of extra time.
The absence of Christophe Dugarry, who injured a knee while promising to fire up the French attack during his 17-minute second-half cameo, will not help Jacquet in the Old Trafford semi. Neither will the suspension of Christian Karembeu.
The French coach, however, insists he will enter the theatre of dreams untroubled by the prospect of nightmares. "We had to struggle against Holland," he said, "but in the knockout stages teams are going to dominate you for periods and make you suffer at times.
"We will go to the semi-final in the spirit with which we came into the tournament. We will be without Karembeu and probably also Dugarry but we have replacements who can bring dynamism and style to the French team."
One name springs immediately to mind - and Old Trafford regulars will doubtless make sure their absent friend will not be forgotten on Wednesday.
NETHERLANDS (4-3-2-1): Van der Sar (Ajax); Reiziger (Ajax), Blind (Ajax), De Kock (Roda JC Kerkrade), Bogarde (Ajax); R de Boer (Ajax), Bergkamp (Arsenal), Witschge (Ajax); Cruyff (Barcelona), Cocu (PSV Eindhoven); Kluivert (Ajax). Substitutes: Seedorf (Sampdoria) for Bergkamp, 59; Winter (Internazionale) for Cruyff, 68; Mulder (Schalke 04) for Witschge, 79.
FRANCE (4-3-2-1): Lama (Paris St-Germain); Thurman (Parma), Blanc (Barcelona), Desailly (Milan), Lizarazu (Bordeaux); Karembeu (Sampdoria), Deschamps (Juventus), Guerin (Paris St-Germain); Zidane (Bordeaux), Djorkaeff (Interazionale); Loko (Paris St-Germain). Substitutes: Dugarry (Milan) for Loko, 61; Pedros (Nantes) for Dugarry, 79.
Referee: A Lopez Nieto (Spain).
Booked: Netherlands: De Kock, Kluivert, Bogarde. France: Deschamps, Karembeu.
Man of the match: Blanc. Attendance: 37,465
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