We got what we deserved, says dejected Vieira

Denmark 2 France 0

So confident were France of contesting the World Cup final again that they were the only country, apart from Brazil, to book hotels through to the end of the tournament.

So confident were France of contesting the World Cup final again that they were the only country, apart from Brazil, to book hotels through to the end of the tournament. Danish goals from Dennis Rommedahl and Jon Dahl Tomasson yesterday ensured that Yokahama International Stadium on 30 June can be scrubbed from the holders' itinerary and replaced by an immediate return to Charles de Gaulle International Airport.

France came to the Far East more than a little hopeful of emulating Brazil, although they had in mind their feat of being the one nation in the post-war era to defend the World Cup successfully, in 1962, rather than their status as the only holders not to reach the second round four years later.

They leave as the bottom team in Group A, with the worst record of any holders in the competition's 72-year history. As Arsenal's Patrick Vieira admitted: "Maybe the commitment of the players wasn't enough and that's why we didn't win a game. We got what we deserved." Denmark, who arrived here with no pretensions and no obvious stars, have now won the section and will meet England for a place in the quarter-finals should Sven Goran Eriksson's team come second in Group F. It would be folly for any opponents to under-estimate them: not only have they scored in all 12 matches the nation has ever played in the finals, but they are also unbeaten in competitive fixtures since Morten Olsen became coach after a disastrous Euro 2000.

Les Bleus can have few complaints. Their task ­ a 2-0 win, or a case of two or die ­ ought not to have been beyond the world and European champions. Yet a squad containing no fewer than three Golden Boot winners failed to score in 270 minutes of action in South Korea. Despite the return of Zinedine Zidane, who brought an extra dimension without looking fit, they came no closer here than when Marcel Desailly and David Trezeguet shook the woodwork in the second half.

However, to discuss this result purely in terms of France's embarrassment would be to do Denmark a grave disservice. The victory was a tactical triumph for Olsen, who learned from Senegal's success in the opening match that the way to stifle an increasingly predictable French system was to swamp midfield. Olsen was bold enough to ditch a formation, and some of the personnel, which had produced four points from the first two games, and his reward was spectacular.

One unit Denmark left intact was the all-Premiership central-midfield pairing of Thomas Gravesen and Stig Tofting. Together with the Schalke 04-bound Christian Poulsen, whose introduction turned the usual central quartet into a quintet, they harried Zidane at every turn. As well as protecting a back line which tackled and covered calmly and intelligently, they also found time to spread the ball wide, and once again the Danes' goals emanated from the flanks.

Rommedahl, normally the provider, stopped a bright start by France in its tracks midway through the first half. By striking with a crisp half-volley, after Tofting on the right wing had picked out his far-post run by lifting his centre over a congested goalmouth, the PSV winger left France needing three goals.

At precisely the same point after the interval, Jesper Gronkjaer crossed from the left. Tomasson, so disappointing at Newcastle but shortly to join Milan, shrugged off Desailly ­ in what the France captain clearly felt was a foul ­ before maintaining his record of scoring in every match and with that there was no way back for France.

Zidane, with a chipped shot which sailed inches wide, had provided a glimpse late in the first half of the virtuosity they had been missing since he tore a thigh muscle in the final warm-up fixture. Soon after the break, Desailly headed a Zidane corner against the bar, and minutes after the Danes' second goal Trezeguet's shot also came out off the underside of the woodwork.

Those misfortunes will be trotted out by apologists for Roger Lemerre. But he stubbornly adhered to a one-man attack until it was too late, ensuring that Denmark always had a spare centre-back. Too many of France's players appeared leg-weary and their movement was never good enough to ruffle Denmark.

Lemerre, who is now certain to come under pressure to resign just two months after signing a contract taking him through to Euro 2004, said afterwards: "This is difficult for me, the players and everyone watching at home. We made an enormous mistake in not winning our first game against Senegal. But Denmark applied their tactics well, I congratulate them and their coach."

As for Denmark, Gravesen was asked how he would feel about facing England. "It would be very nice ­ all those big names," the Everton man said with a grin, "but we don't mind who we play. This team is quite young ­ average age around 27 ­ and it has the potential to go a long way. The big thing is the teamwork. We're like one big family, but we also have good tactics. Today we worked hard to make the pitch small for Zidane, to deny him space."

Messrs Beckham and Scholes can consider themselves forewarned. And, for those who believe in omens, it should be noted that on the previous four occasions that Denmark met France in major tournaments, the winners went on to lift the trophy.

MATCH DETAILS

Denmark 2 France 0
Rommedahl 22, Tomasson 67

DENMARK (4-1-4-1): Sorensen (Sunderland); Helveg, Laursen (both Milan), Henriksen (Panathinaikos), N Jensen (Manchester City); Poulsen (FC Copenhagen); Rommedahl (PSV Eindhoven), Tofting (Bolton), Gravesen (Everton), Jorgensen (Udinese); Tomasson (Feyenoord). Substitutes: Gronkjaer (Chelsea) for Jorgensen, h-t; Bogelund (PSV Eindhoven) for Poulsen, 75; Nielsen (Malmo) for Tofting, 80.

FRANCE (4-2-3-1): Barthez (Manchester United); Candela (Roma), Thuram (Juventus), Desailly (Chelsea), Lizarazu (Bayern Munich); Vieira (Arsenal), Makelele (Real Madrid); Wiltord (Arsenal), Zidane (Real Madrid), Dugarry (Bordeaux); Trezeguet (Juventus). Substitutes: Cissé (Auxerre) for Dugarry, 54; Micoud (Parma) for Vieira, 71; Djorkaeff (Bolton) for Wiltord, 84.

Referee: V Melo Pereira (Portugal).

Bookings: Denmark: Poulsen, Jensen. France: Dugarry.

Attendance: 33,681.

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