Football: World Cup - Petit at helm of French cruise

France 2 Djorkaeff pen 13, Petit 56 Denmark 1 M Laudrup pen 42 Att: 43,500
FRANCE B comfortably defeated a lively but limited Danish team yesterday to claim full points in Group C and side-step an awkward last- 16 game against Nigeria. Emmanuel Petit won the match with a fearsome shot through a thicket of legs in the 56th minute, the Arsenal midfielder's first goal in French blue.

The teams exchanged penalties in the first half, then settled down to a pleasantly meaningless last 45 minutes, unthreatened by the course of events in Bordeaux between South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

What with suspensions, players rested and players on yellow cards, Aime Jacquet started with only four of his regulars. If nothing else, the match proved that the French have strength in depth - all except in one position. David Trezeguet, the latest pretender to the vacant throne of French goalscorer, had a frustrating, unconvincing game. Stephane Guivarc'h, soon to join Newcastle United, replaced the young Monaco forward for the final minutes. He will probably be the latest to try on the glass slipper (or boot) in France's first knock-out match on Sunday.

Neither side needed more than a point but both attacked from the start: France vigorously; Denmark more cautiously. The Danes, apart from the Laudrup brothers, lacked the imagination and first touch to trouble a sometimes flat French defence.

Going forward, the French second string were full of freshness and running. The Arsenal tandem, Petit and Patrick Vieira, patrolled in front of the back four, trying to stake a claim to a permanent place in the later rounds. Petit's goal apart, Vieira looked the more impressive of the two. Word from the French camp suggests, none the less, that Petit will start at the weekend.

The bigger tactical question for the French was who would fill the hole left by the suspended Zinedine Zidane. (Suspended but not disgraced in the eyes of the French fans. A large banner wished "Zizou" a happy 26th birthday). Zidane, out for two games, was, in effect, replaced, by three people: Robert Pires, Youri Djorkaeff and Bernard Diomede, switching positions just behind Trezeguet.

Diomede, usually a left wing-back for Auxerre, was easily the most menacing of the three, full of speed and trickery. He may have done enough to be included on Sunday.

France took the lead in the 12th minute, Djorkaeff narrowly beating Peter Schmeichel from the penalty spot after Trezeguet had been hauled down by Jes Hogh. Schmeichel dived full length to his right and got a hand to the ball but it spun into the corner of the goal.

The rest of the half was mostly France's. Diomede broke through on the left and centred to Vieira, who shot just over. Trezeguet was blocked by Schmeichel after a good run by Pires.

The Danes were busy in midfield but did little damage to the French rearguard, built around the forthcoming Stamford Bridge pairing of Franck Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly.

The equaliser, in the 41st minute, came from a piece of quick thinking by Michael Laudrup after Petit had brought him down on the edge of the D. The Ajax player took the free-kick while the French were still assembling and put Michael Schjonberg clear in the box. Vincent Candela wrestled him to the ground and - to wounded French protests - Mr Collina pointed to the spot. The elder of the Laudrup brother completed the move he had started, beating Fabien Barthez with a scorching shot.

The Danes made a bright start to the second half but the French regained the lead after only 11 minutes. A left wing corner fell to Pires: his shot was beaten out by Schmeichel. The ball bounced off several legs before falling to Petit, who hit it first time through the crowded box. Schmeichel got a leg to the ball but it screamed past him into the net, leaving him kicking the turf in anger.

After that, the Danes - even Schmeichel - seemed content to settle for narrow defeat and a difficult game against Nigeria in the next round.

A dipping free-kick by Stig Tofting, substituting for Brian Laudrup, almost fooled Barthez in the dying minutes. The Monaco keeper was dragged into the net as he arched his back to hold on to the shot but he held the ball just the right side of the line.

FRANCE (4-2-3-1): Barthez (Monaco); Karembeu (Real Madrid), Leboeuf (Chelsea), Desailly (Chelsea), Candela (Roma); Vieira (Arsenal), Petit (Arsenal); Pires (Metz), Djorkaeff (Internazionale), Diomede (Auxerre); Trezeguet (Monaco). Substitutes: Boghossian (Sampdoria) for Petit, 64; Henry (Monaco) for Pires, 71; Guivarc'h (Auxerre) for Trezeguet, 85.

DENMARK (4-3-2-1): Schmeichel (Manchester Utd); Laursen (Derby), Rieper (Celtic), Hogh (Fenerbahce), Heintze (Bayern Leverkusen); Helveg (Udinese), Nielsen (Tottenham); Schjonberg (Kaiserslautern); Jorgensen (Udinese), M Laudrup (Ajax); B Laudrup (Chelsea). Substitutes: Colding (Brondby) for Laursen, h-t; Sand (Brondby) for Jorgensen, 54; Tofting (Duisburg) for B Laudrup, 75.

Referee: P Collina (Italy).