Simon Turnbull: Domenech's pride of lions left looking sheepish
Sunday 08 October 2006
According to the astrological calculations in the Daily Record yesterday morning, it was supposed to be a good day for Leos. "Nobody should stop you from having your way," David Wells (of TV's Most Haunted) forecast - which must have made happy reading for Raymond Domenech over his porridge oats and croissants.
The head coach of France is such a firm believer in astrological matters he is said to have discarded Robert Pires because he distrusts the nature of Scorpios. It is just as well for Domenech that Thierry Henry happens to be a Leo. So was Napoleon Bonaparte, whose stars were presumably unpromisingly juxtaposed on the day of the Euro 1815 final at Waterloo.
Whether or not Walter Smith believes in the stars is unclear but he certainly didn't have any of the recognised football variety to help the Scots shackle Henry the Supposed Unstoppable last night. When the strains of "Flower of Scotland" gave way to the cold reality of the Group B Euro 2008 qualifier, it was left to the unheralded central defensive triumvirate of Steven Pressley, David Weir and Gary Caldwell to contain the elusive Arsenal man. Weir's last assignment was playing for Everton's reserves against Sheffield United's stiffs at the Halton Stadium in Widnes on Tuesday night.
"Whack him early," Alan Hansen had helpfully advised, and the first time Henry got into his smooth stride - effortlessly eluding Paul Hartley on the fringe of the Scotland penalty area - he was not so much whacked as crudely bumped to the ground by Caldwell. Not that it made much difference. Hampden heaved a sigh of relief as Henry's curling free-kick smacked off the inside of the far post, off the back of Craig Gordon's head, and thence to safety.
It was a close call, but as half-time approached France's No 12 was drifting increasingly wide in search of possession, holding up his hands in frustration when his colleagues failed to find him.
The signs were there that Smith and his underdogs were coming up with the answers to the question of "How do you solve a problem like Thierry?" There was even the surreal sound of the Scotland side being serenaded by "Doe, a deer" as they played out the closing minutes of the first-half cruising in the comfort zone.
It got even better after the break. As Henry continued to stall, Domenech sent on Louis Saha and Sylvain Wiltord in the hope of injecting a little va-va-voom. It came instead at the other end, Caldwell sweeping home Hartley's corner.
The stars, it transpired, were not the Gallic galacticos but the artisans in dark blue. In his time at Newcastle, Caldwell rarely made it past the reserves and was farmed out to Darlington, Hibs, Coventry and Derby. Bobby Robson kept getting him mixed up with his brother, Steve.
At Hampden last night the Celtic defender made a name for himself as the man directly responsible for introducing Henry and his colleagues with their Waterloo - the first defeat on foreign soil in a qualifying match for France since 1992. "We had a game plan; it worked really well," the match-winning hero said, modestly deflecting the acclaim.
Henry the great was not so unstoppable after all. Whatever was supposedly written in the stars, it was not the best of days for the Leo or for his Aquarian coach.
At the final whistle Domenech stood transfixed on the touchline. For the Eddie Jordan lookalike, last night at Hampden must have been something like the pits.
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