A dominant performance earned France a 2-0 victory against Slovenia in Ljubljana, a result which enabled the European champions to book their place at UEFA EURO 2004™ with one qualifying match still to play.
Goals in each half from David Trezeguet and Olivier Dacourt secured the victory, which was only soured by the second-half sending-off of Claude Makelele. Slovenia, meanwhile, reached the play-offs after third-placed Israel drew 2-2 against Malta earlier in the day.
France continued in the form which had brought them 24 goals in six previous qualifying matches, producing a composed performance and rarely allowing their hosts to settle. The first opportunity arrived early on when Zinedine Zidane, who was absent from Saturday's 5-0 win against Cyprus, broke through the home midfield and found Thierry Henry, whose shot was only centimetres wide of the far post.
France went ahead in the ninth minute, Lilian Thuram beating his marker to feed Sylvain Wiltord, who found Trezeguet in space in the penalty area. The Juventus FC striker calmly wrong-footed Aleksander Knavs before sending a shot beyond goalkeeper Marko Simeunovic.
France in control
The away team created enough chances to have the game won before half-time, Henry beating two rivals before letting fly from the edge of the penalty area, and Trezeguet having a shot from a Zidane cross blocked.
After the interval, the script remained the same. Zlatko Zahovic, who proved the inspiration when Slovenia defeated Israel 3-1 at the weekend, was stifled by the French midfield and was unable to get into the match. The visitors, on the other hand, hardly misplaced a pass.
Makelele was dismissed for a second bookable offence in the 67th minute, but despite their numerical disadvantage, France settled the match soon after. AS Roma midfield player Olivier Dacourt, who had come on as a substitute for Trezeguet, burst forward from midfield, exchanged passes with Henry on the edge of the penalty area and struck powerfully past Simeunovic.
France coach Jacques Santini praised his players, claiming they had come through their stiffest test. "I expected a hard game," he said. "I have to say that that was the toughest qualifier for France and the defenders did their job really well."
Slovenia coach Bojan Prašnikar added: "We have had two tough games in a short space of time. First against Israel, which was decisive for second place, and tonight with the hardest opponent in the group."