Two last-gasp Zinédine Zidane goals gave France an incredible win against England in Group B.
Trailing to Frank Lampard's 38th-minute header it seemed the holders, who also conceded a penalty, would begin their UEFA EURO 2004 campaign with a disappointing defeat. However, the Real Madrid CF playmaker curled in a free-kick a minute into added time to seemingly rescue a point. Moments later Steven Gerrard's misplaced pass set Thierry Henry clear and the striker was brought down by goalkeeper David James. Zidane kept his nerve from the spot to cap an incredible turnaround.
Both lineups revealed enforced defensive changes. In the absence of the banned Rio Ferdinand and the injured John Terry, Ledley King partnered Sol Campbell in the centre of the England defence. Meanwhile, William Gallas came in for his injured Chelsea FC colleague Marcel Desailly, lining up at right-back with Lilian Thuram – making his 100th appearance for France – moving into the centre.
France forced the early pace, winning a corner in the first minute and threatening through Patrick Vieira. First-match tension and the ennui of acquaintance were not in evidence in a engaging opening spell in which the play flowed from end to end. Robert Pirès's cross and Zidane's free-kick highlighted France's menace while England's lively approach play had yet to yield a productive final ball.
Gradually, the defending champions' superior passing pinned England back and a Zidane snapshot that flew wide testified to their burgeoning superiority. France should have opened when Vieira's cross from the left was met by David Trezeguet but his glanced header went narrowly over.
France's fluency contrasted with England's inertia as Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen were starved of service. Yet for all their pretty passing, France lacked a cutting edge and soon sterility and stalemate supplanted the early adventure.
The opening goal, therefore, came as something of a shock but it was no surprise that it took a set piece to break the deadlock. David Beckham produced a trademark delivery from a free-kick on the right and Lampard, so prolific for Chelsea FC, rose above Mikaël Silvestre at the near post to head past Fabien Barthez for this third international goal on his 20th appearance. It was the first goal France had conceded in 1,078 minutes of football.
Jacques Santini elected not to make any half-time changes and his confidence was almost vindicated. Within a minute of the restart Henry shot straight at James when well placed and then spurned two half-chances in quick succession.
That early endeavour failed to herald a French renaissance and England were now looking the better team with Campbell and King playing like long-term partners at the back. Darius Vassell, celebrating his 25th birthday, replaced the subdued Owen on 70 minutes but it was strike partner Rooney who brought England to the brink of victory two minutes later when his devastating direct run was ended by Silvestre's trip.
The Manchester United FC defender escaped with a caution and there was reprieve too for France as Barthez dived to his right to save Beckham's penalty. It was the England captain's second penalty miss in as many competitive internationals. Barthez was in the thick of the action again minutes later when he misjudged Vassell's shot and made an unorthodox stop with his nose. It would prove crucial.