Bartez the clown has last laugh over England

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The Independent Football

France's ringmaster might have been responsible for all the entertainment on Sunday night against England, but it is their clown who had the last laugh. Fabien Barthez, so often the butt of English jokes because of his unorthodox goal-keeping, pulled off a world class save to keep David Beckham's penalty out and Les Bleus in the match.

France's ringmaster might have been responsible for all the entertainment on Sunday night against England, but it is their clown who had the last laugh. Fabien Barthez, so often the butt of English jokes because of his unorthodox goal-keeping, pulled off a world class save to keep David Beckham's penalty out and Les Bleus in the match.

Zinedine Zidane has, understandably, received the majority of the plaudits in the aftermath of his two injury-time goals. But, two days after the drama of Lisbon, the focus is beginning to shift towards France's World Cup and European Championship winning shot-stopper. "I have been receiving a lot of text messages and congratulations," Barthez said at the team's training base in Santo Tirso. "I think people are now finally getting the chance to calm down again and think about the whole match a little more."

Zidane won the game, but it was Barthez who kept it alive with his 72nd-minute heroics. So how did he save Beckham's penalty? Few could argue that the England captain struck the ball cleanly, and yet Barthez somehow got far enough across his goal line to palm it away. "I relied on my instinct," he said. "You know, for a keeper to save a penalty, he needs 90 per cent luck and 10 per cent concentration."

The odds might have been stacked against him, but Barthez knew exactly where he wanted to spend his 10 per cent of credit. "All I can say is that I really focused on my agility before David's kick," the Marseille keeper recalled. "I was determined to be really explosive off my line because I knew David would try to strike the ball away from the middle."

Barthez added: "After that, it was just a game of poker. In those situations, it's all about the bluffing. I saw him [Beckham] deliberately look to my left as if he was going to strike the ball on that side, but I had already decided I would go the other way. Once you have made your mind up, you must not change. I didn't and was fortunate enough to guess right."

Luck undoubtedly played its part, but there was some method, too, in Barthez's madness. "Well, obviously I had studied his penalties a lot when we were team-mates at Manchester United [for three seasons between 2000 and 2003]," the Frenchman said. "I had also watched more recent videos of his spot kicks, but it doesn't necessarily mean much. The simple fact of the matter is that I didn't know where David was going to shoot; I just took my chances."

One wondered whether this was sweet justice for the man who was thrown out of Manchester United and repeatedly mocked at most Premiership grounds? "No, it is not a case of Fabien Barthez getting his revenge," said the 32-year-old, who left Old Trafford during January's transfer window. "I have no ill feeling whatsoever towards the English, or Manchester United, or Alex Ferguson [the club's manager]. In fact, I tried to find Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt [his former United team-mates] after the game, but they had already left the pitch."

None the less, it was his acrobatics that provided France with the impetus to mount their incredible comeback and, ultimately, to break English hearts. "At 2-0, if I hadn't been able to stop the penalty, the game would not have been the same," Barthez conceded. "Even if we had scored our two goals after that, which I doubt we would have done, the best we could have hoped for was a draw. Instead, we got the win and the all-important three points."

Having witnessed France's stunning comeback against Italy in the final of Euro 2000, when Roger Lemerre's men equalised in the 90th minute before scoring the winner in golden goal extra-time, Barthez is somewhat blasé about the team's latest escape act. "It's funny," he said, "but the first thing I did after saving the penalty was to look at the clock. Something told me we still had a chance to get back into the game. It's years of experience that give you that kind of inner-belief. I know that this generation are fighters, so while there is time there is always hope."

It must also help having the best player on the planet on one's side. "Of course, Barthez acknowledged. "Zizou is probably the only person in the world who could have scored those two goals under such pressure. He's immense."

Barthez is too modest to admit it, but Sunday's save has re-affirmed his own world class status. "The England game is gone from my mind for now," he said dismissively. "I'm not going to think about anything I've done until later. Only when I'm on holiday after the Euro might I allow myself a little smile." It will be the least the clown deserves.

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