France maintained the only 100 per cent record in UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying with a 5-0 win against Cyprus in the Stade de France.
One point needed
However, Slovenia's victory against Israel means that Jacques Santini's side still need a point in Ljubljana on Wednesday to secure top spot in Group 1 and a place in next summer's finals.
The European champions were in imperious form, despite the absence of Zinedine Zidane, and the visitors were simply no match. Indeed, France would have won by a greater margin had Cyprus goalkeeper and captain Nikos Panayiotou not produced a string of defiant saves.
The ball was in the visitors' net as early as the third minute, David Trezeguet collecting Sylvain Wiltord's pass and firing past Panayiotou only to be ruled offside. Five minutes later, though, Les Bleus were ahead. Marcel Desailly's persistence paid off as he stabbed the ball to Bixente Lizarazu who fed Trezeguet. The forward controlled the ball on his chest before lashing a left-footed shot past Panayiotou.
Wiltord finishes with ease
Cyprus nearly equalised within two minutes, Giotis Engomitis sending a shot just over Fabien Barthez's crossbar, but it was a rare show of attacking force from the visitors. Robert Pires's instinctive header was palmed away by Panayiotou but in the 20th minute the goalkeeper was powerless as Lizarazu picked out Thierry Henry, who held off Stelios Okkarides to play in Wiltord who finished with ease.
A torrid spell ensued for the Cypriots. Panayiotou only just kept out an Henry effort, Mikaël Silvestre headed wide and an Henry curler rapped the woodwork after Panayiotou got the slightest of touches to the ball.
Three minutes before the interval the inevitable third arrived. An one-two between Wiltord and Trezeguet ended with the former smashing his second of the night, and sixth of the campaign. After the interval there was no let-up. A surging run by Lizarazu, a full-back who spent most of the game as a left-sided attacker, ended with him shooting over but on the hour Henry was more accurate, bending a long-range shot into the top corner.
Cyprus toiled manfully, but top scorer Michalis Konstantinou received little support up front. When the ball did reach him he was invariably caught offside and in the 67th minute he was substituted. On 82 minutes the French scored their fifth and final goal when substitute Willy Sagnol picked out Trezeguet and he stooped to score with his head.
Cyprus's Yiannis Okkas had the ball in the net late on, only for the effort to be ruled offside. It just was not the visitors' night against a side who, on this evidence, have every chance of retaining their crown. "We have been moving in the right direction for a few months now," said France coach Santini. "It is important to keep the run going. I'm happy because my goalscorers did a good job. And now we are really close to that qualification."
Meanwhile, Cyprus coach Momcilo Vukotic was effusive in his praise of the hosts. "We have to say 'bravo' to the French," he said. "They were superb tonight and it is a pleasure to watch them. I have nothing negative to say about my team. Their commitment was excellent and they did their best to keep the score down."