Fabien Barthez, so often maligned for his madcap tendencies, maintained France's tenuous grip on the World Cup last night. A fractious match, in which the holders played for 65 minutes with 10 men following the dismissal of Thierry Henry, was in stoppage time when Uruguay worked the scoring opportunity that must have had French television viewers covering eyes and cowering behind sofas.
Federico Magallanes, one of Uruguay's substitutes, faced Barthez in a one-to-one duel. If the Italian-based striker had won, France's final Group A game, against Denmark at Inchon on Tuesday, would have been of purely academic interest. The shot was true, but the Manchester United keeper thrust out a leg and diverted the ball to safety with his left shin.
A nation breathed again, yet France's quest to retain their trophy still splutters. To reach the second phase they must beat the Danes by two goals or win a high-scoring match. But Roger Lemerre's side have not scored at all in this tournament while Denmark are unbeaten in competition since Euro 2000.
France, moreover, will be without both Henry, whose studs-up lunge at Marcelo Romero left the referee no option other than to show the red card, and his former Arsenal colleague Emmanuel Petit. The pair are now suspended, Petit being fortunate merely to be cautioned after swinging an elbow and raising his hands in retaliation to a typically provocative push by Sebastian Abreu late in the first half. Add the fact that there is still no sign of Zinedine Zidane being fit and Lemerre may be struggling to field a side capable of preserving French honour.
Uruguay, whose refusal to take the game to depleted opponents amounted to moral cowardice, could, depressingly, reach the last 16 themselves. They appeared to have calculated, quite cynically, that, if they avoided defeat, a 1-0 win over Senegal would almost certainly see them through. There can be no other explanation, other than force of habit, for the way they massed behind the ball and attacked on the break.
Their approach, which was also characterised by systematic fouling and faking injury, was inexcusable given that they had the most gifted player on the pitch in Alvaro Recoba. The Internazionale player nutmegged both Patrick Vieira and Vincent Candela, and his mesmerising left foot was behind virtually all Uruguay's better moments.
How France could have used Recoba's cunning and vision. Zidane's understudy, Johan Micoud, played more effectively than Youri Djorkaeff and contributed to an improvement on the showing against Senegal, but looked short of confidence and sharpness.
France dominated for long periods, Petit coming closest when he curled a free-kick against a post after 35 minutes. Fabian Carini made agile saves to deny David Trezeguet, Candela and Micoud; Marcel Desailly wasted a free header; and, when Trezeguet beat the 22-year-old keeper, Paolo Montero cleared off the line. In injury time, Bixente Lizarazu set up Sylvain Wiltord, only for Gonzalo Sorondo to make a stupendous sliding tackle.
Uruguay had chances, too, especially early in the second half, but Abreu headed wide and Barthez kept out everything Recoba threw at him, saving the best for last to thwart Magallanes and ensure the first 0-0 draw of the competition. Vieira was at least half right afterwards when he said: "Fabien is the best keeper in the world and kept us in the competition."
Meanwhile, Lemerre promised the champions would "give everything" against Denmark, adding what would have been unthinkable a week ago: "We still have a bit of hope left." His Uruguayan counterpart, Victor Pua, anticipated a "a tough match" against Senegal, but insisted: "We will go for it." Seeing will be believing.
France (4-2-3-1): Barthez (Manchester United); Thuram (Juventus), Leboeuf (Marseilles), Desailly (Chelsea), Lizarazu (Bayern Munich); Vieira (Arsenal), Petit (Chelsea); Wiltord (Arsenal), Micoud (Parma), Henry (Arsenal); Trezeguet (Juventus). Substitutes: Candela (Roma) for Leboeuf, 16; Cissé (Auxerre) for Trezeguet, 81; Dugarry (Bordeaux) for Wiltord, 90.
Uruguay (3-4-1-2): Carini (Juventus); Lembo (Nacional), Montero (Juventus), Sorondo (Internazionale); Varela (Nacional), Romero (Malaga), Garcia (Venezia), Rodriguez (Peñarol); Recoba (Internazionale); Silva (Malaga), Abreu (Cruz Azul). Substitutes: Magallanes (Venezia) for Silva, 60; De los Santos (Valencia) for Romero, 71; Guigou (Roma) for Rodriguez, 72.
Referee: F Ramos Rizo (Mexico).
Bookings: France: Petit. Uruguay: Garcia, Abreu, Romero, Silva. Sent off: France: Henry.
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