Football: Fortune favours France

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The Independent Online
CHRISTOPHE DUGARRY went some way last night towards answering the critics who believed that France should have chosen Arsenal's Nicolas Anelka in his place. On a night of high winds and low quality in Marseilles, where he now plays after failing at Milan and Barcelona, Dugarry set the host nation on the road to victory by scoring soon after emerging as an early substitute.

Dugarry also played a prominent part in the own goal by his club colleague, Pierre Issa, which blew South Africa off course late in the game late in the game. Thierry Henry, Highbury's latest French target, breezed in to give the scoreline a slightly flattering sheen with a cleverly taken third, helped in by the hapless Issa in stoppage time.

After the negative reaction they received in some cities during their build-up to the finals, France could not complain about the support they received in the "French Naples."

Despite being open on three sides, the refurbished stadium reverberated to the cry of Allez les Bleus as the teams made their entrance.

The chant of "Zizou, Zizou, Zizou" - in honour of the returning home town hero, Zinedine Zidane - then took over. The stage-managed announcement of the line-ups brought further roars after every French name, with the conspicuous exception of the coach, Aime Jacquet.

In such an atmosphere, South Africa needed to defuse the excitement with a steady opening. To the undoubted discomfort of their Parisian coach, Philippe Troussier - who takes charge of Sheffield Wednesday after the tournament - they came perilously close to falling behind after only 85 seconds.

A foul by Lucas Radebe on Stephane Guivarc'h produced a free kick which was rolled short to the Newcastle-bound striker. His drive passed barely a foot wide of Hans Vonk's left-hand upright.

South Africa's response was sufficiently positive to quell the French fervour for a time. They might even have stolen ahead when Benny McCarthy contested a cross by David Nyathi with such vigour that Fabien Barthez had to leave his area to scramble the ball clear.

The escape seemed to jolt France out of their lethargy. A long throw by Bixente Lizarazu skimmed off the head of Issa and Guivarc'h's diving header was only just wide.

Guivarc'h, though, promptly succumbed to injury. Dugarry, having heard his inclusion ahead of Anelka widely attributed to his friendship with the influential Zidane, had an instant opportunity to prove his worth, only to shoot straight at the on-rushing Vonk after Zidane had played him in.

But in the 35th minute, the pair combined again to telling effect. Zidane's corner cleared Mark Fish, dipping conveniently for Dugarry to head home in a congested six-yard box. France deserved their lead, yet were almost caught out from a Nyathi free-kick on the stroke of half-time that allowed Issa a free header which he failed to convert.

Henry could well have earned France a penalty five minutes into the second half. Issa, who shiny dome acted like a magnet to the ball all evening, tried to turn the Monaco winger's cross behind. Instead, his clearance caught Fish on the arm. Although a penalty would have had greater validity than the one which rescued Italy against Chile, the Brazilian referee deemed the contact to be accidental.

Dugarry soon had the beating of Vonk again but had wandered offside. While eager to applaud anything resembling an attacking thrust, the crowd spent the next 10 minutes repeating the "Mexican Wave"; a sure indication that events on the pitch were not engaging them adequately.

Zidane mastered the swirling conditions better than most. Unfortunately Dugarry's finishing did not always match the approach work, one particularly weak effort enabling Vonk to save when he must have feared the worst.

South Africa, making their debut in the finals, were certainly not overawed. Too often, however, they lacked the guile to exploit the pace of McCarthy and Phil Masinga.

France sealed victory 12 minutes from time. Dugarry turned cleverly on Lizarazu's throw, setting up Youri Djorkaeff for a scuffed shot which Issa diverted to Vonk's left as the keeper dived to his right.

Henry, dancing past Willen Jackson before chipping Vonk, ensured an instant upturn in Jacquet's precarious popularity.

FRANCE (4-2-2-2): Barthez (Monaco); Thuram (Parma), Blanc (Marseilles), Desailly (Milan), Lizarazu (Bayern Munch); Deschamps (Juventus), Petit (Arsenal); Henry (Monaco), Zidane (Juventus); Guivarc'h (Auxerre), Djorkaeff (Internazionale). Substitutes: Dugarry (Marseille) for Guivarc'h (26); Boghossian (Sampdoria) for Petit, 73; Trezeguet (Monaco) for Djorkaeff, 83.

SOUTH AFRICA (4-4-2): Vonk (Heernveen); Issa (Marseilles), Fish (Bolton), Radebe (Leeds) Nayathi (St Gallen); Jackson (Orlando Pirates), Moshoeu (Fenerbahce), Augustine (Linzer ASK) Fortune (Atletico Madrid); McCarthy (Ajax) Masinga (Bari). Substitute: Mkhalele (Kayserispor) for Augustine, 57; Bartlett (Cape Town Spurs) for McCarthy, 89.

Referee: M Razende de Freitas (Brazil).