Belgium 0-2 France Louis Saha caps an impressive debut with the visitors' second goal.
Belgium 0-2 France
With first-choice strikers Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet missing through injury, France coach Jacques Santini opted to give both Saha and Péguy Luyindula their full debuts up front. The untried partnership made a lively start as Saha charged down Geert De Vlieger's clearance while Luyindula caused problems with his pace.
With eleven minutes played, Luyindula had a great chance to open the scoring. Zinedine Zidane played in a clever cross from the right that the Olympique Lyonnais striker controlled with his chest, only to send his shot over from a promising position.
Belgium, and Thomas Buffel in particular, refused to let the visitors settle and France were forced into a series of first-half defensive errors as Buffel scurried and harried. As early as the second minute, the young Belgian striker carried the ball past Fabien Barthez only to be denied by a tight angle.
Santini's side had their rhythm further disrupted when AS Roma's combative midfield player Olivier Dacourt picked up an injury and was replaced by Claude Makelele. As the half progressed, Zidane began to run the midfield, and his subtle passing, strength on the ball and retention of possession gradually increased the pressure on the hard-working hosts.
With almost the last kick of the first-half, France took the lead. Saha was tripped in the penalty area as he closed on goal, only for referee Mark Halsey to play advantage, allowing Govou to slot the ball past De Vlieger. That was to be Govou's last action as he was replaced at half-time by Robert Pires.
In the second half, Tom Soetaers, who replaced Peter Van der Heyden, nearly had an immediate impact when his whipped corner picked out defender Vincent Kompany, but the highly-rated defender's finish lacked power. Belgium suddenly had the momentum. Lilian Thuram gave away a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area, but Wesley Sonck's effort clipped the top of the crossbar.
Predictably though, Zidane swung the game back into France's favour. Seemingly effortlessly, he glided through the Belgian defence before setting up Saha for a straightforward finish with a delightful inside pass. With Djibril Cissé ruled out of EURO 2004™ through suspension, there is a place in the squad for the taking. Saha has made an impressive case.