Henry leads threat to England?s glory hopes

Eriksson's men face a difficult opener in Lisbon against Les Bleus, followed by unexpected Swiss and unpredictable Croatians

By Nick Harris
Monday 01 December 2003 01:00

After trudging home early from last year's World Cup finals - winless, goalless and humiliated - the reigning European Champions eased through Euro 2004 qualifying with the only 100 per cent group record.

An easy section containing Cyprus, Malta, Slovenia and Israel was certainly a factor but a goals tally of 29 for and only two against was impressive nonetheless. France's 3-0 friendly win against Germany in Gelsenkirchen earlier this month was their 13th consecutive victory, a national record to eclipse their 1984 mark of 12 straight wins, the year they won their first major honour.

David Trézéguet, who scored twice against Germany, is among several outstanding options up front, with Thierry Henry - likely to be World Player of the Year for 2003 - and Djibril Cissé foremost among the others. The majority of France's Euro 2000 winners remain, with the likes of Henry and Robert Pires having progressed in leaps and bounds since then. Another batch of players, including Chelsea's William Gallas, Sochaux's Benoit Pedretti and Auxerre's Jean-Alain Boumsong have been involved in the Euro 2004 build-up and will be hoping to consolidate their places.

One advantage for Sven Goran Eriksson in being drawn against France is that a large proportion of Jacques Santini's squad are based in the Premiership, and are therefore well known to him.

Henry is enjoying a purple patch up front at Highbury but Eriksson knows he is equally dangerous when deployed deeper and wider in an attacking-midfield trio, where France tend to use him. Henry's club-mates Sylvain Wiltord and Pires are also contenders in this area while Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane is a certainty, fitness permitting, to fill the central role. It was Zidane's pre-World Cup injury and absence early in last year's tournament that robbed the French of their most gifted natural talent.

Euro 2004 is certain to be the last European finals for the 31-year-old Zidane and his desire to succeed will only be heightened. Other English-based players include Patrick Vieira and Claude Makelele, a formidable defensive-midfield partnership. Vieira's thigh injury is a concern but could work in France's favour if it means a less intense domestic season.

Possible first-choice line-up: (4-2-3-1) Barthez (Man Utd); Thuram (Juventus), Desailly (Chelsea), Silvestre (Man Utd), Lizarazu (Bayern Munich); Makelele (Chelsea), Vieira (Arsenal); Pires (Arsenal), Zidane (Real Madrid), Henry (Arsenal); Trezeguet (Juventus).

Coach: Jacques Santini.

Record v England: P25 W5 D4 L16 F30 A64.

Last three v England: France 0 England 1 (Montpellier 1997, Le Tournoi); England 0 France 2 (Wembley 1999, Friendly); France 1 England 1 (Paris 2000, Friendly).

Recent record in EC finals: 1980 DNQ; 1984 Winners; 1988 DNQ; 1992 R1; 1996 SF; 2000 Winners.

Best performance in EC finals: 1984 Winners; 2000 Winners.

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