France 3 Italy 1: French revenge piles pressure on rookie Donadoni

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The Independent Online

This time there were no butts, nor ifs. France, playing the football of the gods, produced a performance that would have brought them a second World Cup if it had been delivered in Berlin 59 days earlier.

Instead it garnered just three European Championship qualifying points, and a measure of revenge. Small reward, perhaps, for a sublime attacking display but for Italy it is a dramatic fall from grace.

Two months after winning the World Cup the Italians have just a single point from two Euro 2008 qualifying games and the pressure on Roberto Donadoni, the rookie coach, is rising.

Les Bleus will take sustenance, too, from the unveiling of a new star, perhaps - whisper it quietly - even a successor to Zinedine Zidane. Franck Ribery does not yet have the passing range of Zidane, he is only 23, but he has greater mobility and plenty of courage.

Raymond Domenech, the France coach, affects to distrust the star system but he bent his principles to allow Ribery to take a curtain call a minute from the end of this tie, and receive an ovation Parisian crowds rarely grant to footballers from Olympique Marseilles. How much longer Ribery remains there who knows? Arsène Wenger, here last night, will not have been the only admiring coach.

Ribery took Zidane's conductor's baton only because Louis Saha picked up a knock in Georgia, forcing Domenech to revert to the formation that had served his team so well in Germany. The switch prompted a bravura display from Henry, and the inclusion of Sidney Govou, who scored the other two goals.

Domenech said: "We have beaten two World Cup winners in the last two months," referring to his team's World Cup quarter-final win over Brazil. "But what's more important is that we have distanced Italy by five points."

Unsurprisingly, the France coach was more talkative than his defender, William Gallas, who refused to talk about the row with his former club Chelsea other than to say that he was happy to have joined Arsenal. He also delivered the cross from which Govou volleyed France ahead after 69 seconds.

France (4-2-3-1): Coupet; Abidal (both Lyon), Gallas (Arsenal), Thuram (Barcelona), Sagnol (Bayern Munich); Makelele (Chelsea), Vieira (Internazionale); Govou (Lyon), Malouda (Lyon), Ribery (Marseilles); Henry (Arsenal). Substitutes used: Wiltord (Lyon) for Govou, 74; Saha (Manchester United) for Ribery, 87.

Italy (4-2-3-1): Buffon (Juventus); Zambrotta (Barcelona), Cannavaro (Real Madrid), Barzagli (Palermo), Grosso (Internazionale); Gattuso (Milan), Pirlo (Milan); Semioli (Chievo), Cassano (Real Madrid), Perotta (Roma); Gilardino (Milan). Substitutes used: Di Michele (Palermo) for Semioli, 54; Inzhagi (Milan) for Cassano, 72; De Rossi (Parma) for Gilardino, 86.

Referee: M Fandel (Germany).

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