After failing to reach the two previous FIFA World Cups, France announced their return to the forefront of international football by lifting the 1998 competition on home soil. Victory in EURO 2000™ cemented their place among the great teams of all time and Roger Lemerre's dashing outfit will be aiming to maintain their momentum up to and beyond EURO 2004™ in Portugal.
Just six months after France were paired with Russia, Ukraine, Iceland, Andorra and Armenia in a difficult looking EURO 2000™ qualifying section, they began their bid to lift their first world crown with a comfortable 3-0 victory over South Africa in the Stade de France. Saudi Arabia were also brushed aside before the hosts secured a last 16 meeting with Paraguay with a 2-1 victory over Denmark.
World Cup success
A "golden goal" from Laurent Blanc ended the South American's hopes and set up a mouthwatering quarter-final tie with Italy. After 120 minutes of tense football, France went through on penalties after Luigi di Biagio agonisingly saw his spot-kick crash against the bar. The semi-final was an equally tight affair, France relying on Lilian Thuram's first international goals to cancel out Davor Suker's opener for Croatia. The win was overshadowed by the dismissal of Blanc, but, suspended, he looked on proudly from the sidelines as Les Bleus eased past Brazil 3-0 in the final to spark mass celebrations on the streets of Paris.
Midfield players on target
Two headed goals from Zinedine Zidane and another from Emmanuel Petit helped France to the win and saw them billed as favourites for EURO 2000™. They were expected to emerge from qualifying Group Four with ease but had to rely on a final-day victory over Iceland to ensure their participation in the Low Countries.
Seemingly suffering a World Cup hangover, France's campaign got off to a stuttering start with a 1-1 draw in Reykjavik in September 1998 before Lemerre's side registered successive victories over Russia, 3-2 away, and Andorra, a less than impressive 2-0 home win. A 0-0 home draw with Ukraine and a 2-0 victory over Armenia preceded a 3-2 defeat by Russia in Paris - France's first competitive loss at home in six years.
Lemerre, who had not long replaced Aimé Jacquet as coach, came in for much criticism in the French press and that intensified with unconvincing away displays against Andorra (a late 1-0 win), Ukraine (another stalemate) and Armenia (a 3-2 victory). Four teams were still in with a chance of sealing automatic qualification on a nail-biting final day but France's 3-2 win over Iceland, David Trezeguet netting the crucial goal, coupled with Ukraine's draw in Moscow saw them through - just.
The qualifying struggle acted as something of a wake-up call to France and they returned in the summer of 2000 to steamroller all before them and add the European crown to their world title won two years earlier. France and the Netherlands emerged from a group stage section also containing the Czech Republic and Denmark, the Dutch claiming top spot with a 3-2 win over a France side missing several players who had impressed in the 3-0 triumph over Denmark and 2-1 defeat of the Czechs.
France accounted for Spain in the quarter-finals, Zidane and Youri Djorkaeff both netting in a 2-1 win, before Portugal were eliminated by the same score in the King Baudouin stadium in Brussels, the inspirational Zidane again on target, scoring a "golden goal" penalty three minutes from the end of extra time.
The mighty French became the first reigning world champions to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy on 2 July when Trezeguet struck another "golden goal" winner after Sylvain Wiltord had cancelled out Marco Delvecchio's opening goal with a leveller on the stroke of full time. The defeat broke Italian hearts and silenced the critics who attributed France's World Cup success to their final meeting with a below-par Brazilian side.
Confederations Cup success
Without the need to qualify for Korea/Japan, France have been involved in a number of high-profile friendly internationals and the FIFA Confederations Cup, which they won in the summer of 2001, since their triumph in Rotterdam.
Despite becoming the only country other than Brazil to hold three international titles simultaneously with a 1-0 Confederations Cup final victory over co-hosts Japan, 2001 was not a memorable year for the French. Their defensive limitations were exposed in defeats by Spain and Australia and they were handed a lesson in South American possession football by Chile in September, shortly before their abandoned friendly with Algeria and a controversial draw in Melbourne.
Taking centre stage
A lack of competitive action had seemingly taken its toll on France but with the World Cup and the qualifying competition for EURO 2004™ both on the agenda in 2002, it should not be too long before the greatest European side of recent years takes centre stage once again.
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