France captain Patrick Vieira had two reasons to celebrate at the Stade de France last night - Les Bleus beat Greece 1-0 and the friendly marked the 30-year-old's 100th cap. Vieira is only the fifth player to reach that mark, following exalted quartet Lilian Thuram, (125), Marcel Desailly (116), Zinédine Zidane (108) and Didier Deschamps (103).
Appropriately, the game was preceded by a ceremony paying tribute to the 1998 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2000™ winners, and the result meant France added the scalp of the European champions to that of World Cup winners Italy, which was gained in September. Vieira, a member of the triumphant 1998 and 2000 squads, did not produce his most spectacular performance, yet still came close to scoring his seventh international goal, first with a header from a Willy Sangol free-kick, then a strike that hit the side-netting.
So how did Vieira handle his emotions as he stood for the Marseillaise for the 100th time, since first taking the field for France in a 2-1 victory against the Netherlands on 26 February 1997. "I tried to forget about my century when the game started but it was not easy as there was a festive atmosphere caused by the pre-match ceremony," the FC Internazionale Milano midfielder said. "But it's true, I'm proud of this number, not many of us have achieved it. It's extraordinary."
Only Vieira and Thuram remain of the 1998 World Cup final side, but it is the European success two years later that the former Arsenal FC skipper cherishes most. "What will leave the deepest mark is probably when we sat with the trophy on the Rotterdam pitch after the EURO 2000 final win. There was 'Liza' [Bixente Lizarazu], Lilian, 'Titi' [Thierry Henry] and a few others. We were talking calmly and thinking, 'Wow, after 1998 now this!'."
That dramatic defeat of Italy was reversed in equally tense fashion at this summer's World Cup, a final with doubly painful memories for Vieira who was forced off in the second half with a thigh injury. "I know I couldn't avoid the injury but I'm still sorry to have left my team-mates at that moment," Vieira rued. Raymond Domenech made Vieira his captain upon his appointment in July 2004, and though the armband was selflessly passed to Zidane a year later, the France coach has never made any secret of his respect for the Senegal-born player. "One hundred caps, it means ten years at the highest level which deserves great respect," Domenech said.
With two World Cup finals under his belt, Vieira now has his sights on another UEFA European Championship showpiece in 2008 and has even hinted at staying on for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. "He will beat all longevity records," Deschamps predicted in 1998. Vieira is on course to prove his former team-mate right. "I'll stop at just the right time," he said.
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