Football: Keller has the answer for France

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The Independent Online
reports from Lyon

France 1 Brazil 1

As overture, it was open, entertaining and skilful. France and Brazil got Le Tournoi off to a pleasing start here last night with a draw that did justice to two well-matched teams who confirmed they will be among the favourites when the real business of the World Cup finals takes place a year hence.

A breathtaking 35-yard free-kick by Roberto Carlos gave Brazil a first- half lead, but the French responded after the interval with a spirited display that yielded a merited equaliser from Marc Keller. It was a goal, though, that covered up French striking shortcomings while the Brazilians demonstrated again their modern blend of strength and subtlety.

It was a mouth-watering start to this mini-tournament with next year's World Cup hosts taking on its holders, both teams treating the match more competitively than might England and Italy, perhaps, without qualifying matches to concern them.

The Brazilians initially, however, looked more open than we became accustomed to at USA 94, as Norway had found in beating them 4-2 last week, their only defeat in their last 10 games. France went into the match with a similar record.

Zinedine Zidane, so disappointing for Juventus in last week's European Cup final, immediately lifted the Lyonnaise crowd with a strong, skilful run and soon after sent in Ibrahim Ba for a shot on goal which he steered straight at Claudio Taffarel. It illustrated immediately France's current problem: well stocked with midfield talent but without an outstanding striker. The latest to be tried was the local hero, Florian Maurice.

The French were soon punished for their profligacy. They had looked vulnerable in the course of an incisive move when Romario found Ronaldo with a through- ball which the Barce- lona striker struck powerfully, Fabien Barthez doing well to turn it aside. Any side in the world would have looked vulnerable to what happened next, though.

A combination of Laurent Blanc and Patrick Vieira, the Arsenal midfield player getting his chance after an early injury to Christian Karembeu, fouled Romario, but they must have thought there was little danger when the ball was spotted centrally, some 35 yards out.

Up ran Roberto Carlos, however, and struck the most sublime of free-kicks with the outside of his left foot, sending it five yards to the left of the wall and Fabien Barthez's post before it obediently curled back and flew into the net off the post.

The Stade Gerland was stunned by such audacious technique. So too the French defence, it seemed, when Cafu cut a low cross back from the right and Ronaldo met it sweetly on the half-volley. Fortunately for the French, Barthez was alert and tipped the shot over the bar.

Now the Brazilians were in their element, moving the ball smoothly and pulling the French midfield and defence this way and that. When the hosts' labours did win them possession, they looked neat enough going forward but again without a cutting edge. Taffarel could even dare to juggle Aldair's back-pass before clearing under pressure. When the half-time whistle blew, it was accompanied by some more from the home crowd.

The French emerged with more purpose in the second half, bringing on Keller for Robert Pires in an attempt to add thrust on the left flank. The attitude almost brought them an equaliser immediately after the restart.

First, Blanc's header at the far post from Zidane's floated free-kick forced Taffarel into a low save. Then, when Dunga stabbed the ball back into his arms, the referee rightly declared it a back-pass. The free-kick, six yards out, was touched to Zidane, whose low shot went past most of the 11 Brazilians on the goal-line but not Cafu, who kicked clear.

The French were fired up now, though, and the equaliser was not long in coming. On the hour the hitherto subdued Ba, a flying right-winger who is expected soon to join the French foreign legion in Italy, crossed low from the right, Maurice eluded Aldair and drove in a low shot at the second attempt and, when Taffarel pushed it out, Keller was on hand to tap home.

The Brazilians responded with a dipping 25-yard shot from Dunga which Barthez clawed away and tried to win the game by bringing on Djalminha, the attacker preferred in the squad to Juninho. Indeed he forced Bar- thez into a scrambling save from a 25-yard left-footed free-kick. It was a game, though, that probably did not deserve a loser.

FRANCE (4-5-1): Barthez (Monaco); Candela (Roma), Blanc (Barcelona), Desailly (Milan), Lizarazu (Athletic Bilbao); Ba (Bordeaux), Karembeu (Sampdoria), Deschamps (Juventus), Zidane (Juventus), Pires (Metz); Maurice (Lyon). Substitutes: Vieira (Arsenal) for Karembeu, 14; Keller (Karslruhe) for Pires, 46; Thuram (Parma) for Desailly, 66.

BRAZIL (3-5-2): Taffarel (Atletico Mineiro); Celio Silva (Corinthians), Mauro Silva (Deportivo La Coruna), Aldair (Roma); Cafu (Palmeiras), Leonardo (Paris St-Germain), Dunga (Jubilo Iwata), Giovanni (Barcelona), Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid); Romario (Flamengo), Ronaldo (Barcelona). Substitutes: Djalminha (Palmeiras) for Giovanni, 72; Paulo Nunes (Gremio Porto Alegre) for Romario, 78; Goncalves (Botafogo) for Aldair, 87.

Referee: M Nielsen (Denmark).