Football: Trezeguetthe new musketeer

Norman Fox says history could be smiling on a dashing young French blade
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The Independent Online
AS David Beckham may yet discover, the most influential players in World Cup finals often fail to make an early impact. For the French, though, the wait to discover a reliable goalscorer has already exhausted their patience and thrust the inexperienced Monaco striker David Trezeguet into the spotlight.

It's not as if the French are failing to accumulate goals. Admittedly they laboured to put away a multitude of chances against Saudi Arabia on Thursday, but by the end they had still scored two more than Brazil and Italy. It's just that the understandably demanding French media will not let anyone forget that, so far, the seven strikes have been spread unpredictably and include an own goal. The others have come from Christophe Dugarry, who has a serious injury, Bixente Lizarazu (a defender) and the inexperienced Monaco 20-year-olds Thierry Henry, with three, and Argentine- trained Trezeguet.

If France are to reproduce the Sir Geoffrey Hurst scenario - in 1966 he was only called upon to play at the quarter-final stage before his hat-trick performance in the final - Trezeguet and Henry are the most likely candidates. They, and Beckham, should be greatly encouraged by the evidence of history.

The progress of past tournaments shows how unnecessary it is for Beckham to worry about being left out of the opening game, and how premature it is for France to fret about the apparent lack of a dependable scorer. In 1990, for instance, Toto Schillaci started on the bench in Italy's first match but finished as the tournament's top scorer. Gary Lineker failed to find the net in his opening two games in 1986 but then scored three against Poland and also ended as leading scorer. In 1982, Italy's Paolo Rossi was so poor in the first game that some Italian journalists thought that would be his last appearance. He went on to score six and become the most important member of the World Cup winning side.

Perhaps to their good fortune, Trezeguet and Henry were not seriously tipped as potential late-arriving French "stars". Trezeguet was not seen as the answer to a team with impressive talent in midfield and defence but no one to take advantage up front. The more optimistic talk was all of Zinedine Zidane, Dugarry and a boy named Lilian (Thuram), of Parma, another fleet provider of chances that go begging. But circumstances changed dramatically on Thursday and, most likely, it will be Trezeguet who will find himself under the spotlight of expectancy, especially as the wizard Zidane got himself suspended.

Trezeguet came into the World Cup with only three caps, having made his debut as recently as January. The French press assumed that he was too new to have more than a walk-on, squad part. In the opening match against South Africa he was offered a mere eight minutes when it was too late to do much about the lack of finishing that re-iterated the team's striking problems.

Although born in Rouen at a time when, for three seasons, his father was a defender for the local club, his football schooling was all done in Argentina, the birthplace of his parents. He recalls the decision to return from Buenos Aires, where he had been playing for Platense, to France rather than retain the option of playing for Argentina. "It was made easier, technically, because I was a French national, so I didn't even need a work permit but I knew I was committing myself for all-time."

On arriving back in France he almost joined Paris Saint-Germain, with whom he spent a few weeks in training, but for a reason he has yet to discover the deal fell through and he went to Monaco. In spite of his new international recognition he remains a novice even at club level. He appeared for Monaco only four times in the 1995-96 season and made only five appearances in the next. However, this season, he has become a dependable scorer and automatic choice as main striker. Henry joined him in the French youth and Under-21 sides before, together, they made their move into the senior squad.

Like Trezeguet, Henry had only three previous caps before the World Cup. Whether they can become the Hurst-Peters duo of '98 it will be fascinating to discover.