|Attempts on target||3||8|
|Attempts off target||4||7|
France retain their chances of holding on to the European title they won in the Low Countries four years ago – but at the moment, they seem intent on making themselves, and their fans, suffer bouts of anxiety in the course of their progress through UEFA EURO 2004™ after having to sweat mightily to beat unheralded Switzerland in the closing Group B encounter.
For 75 minutes, the gallant Swiss, who played above themselves with a performance of graft and fierce commitment, harboured thoughts of a glorious sensation after teenage striker Johan Vonlanthen - at 18 years and 141 days the youngest ever UEFA European Championship goalscorer - had cancelled out Zinedine Zidane's opener in the first half hour of a pulsating, fascinating encounter.
France finally came good in the last 15 minutes to banish any fears of a shock exit, Arsenal FC striker Thierry Henry at last producing the goalscoring touch that had previously eluded him with two successful strikes that subdued coach Jakob Kuhn's courageous charges. But French coach Jacques Santini will prepare for a quarter-final against Greece knowing that his renowned side are still some way from firing on all four cylinders.
Switzerland go out of the competition with heads held high. They fought doggedly, surpassed their previous efforts in the tournament and genuinely had France and their supporters worried with a display that made nonsense of widespread pre-match predictions that the result would be a formality for Santini's troops.
It was all going to plan for Les Bleus when Zidane nodded in a Robert Pires corner after 20 hectic minutes. But Vonlanthen – brought in by Kuhn to pep up his ailing attack in place of the out-of-form Stéphane Chapuisat and suspended Alexander Frei, and a real prospect on this showing - belied his tender years by dragging Switzerland level six minutes later. It took Henry to come good as the second-half minutes ticked down to send the French supporters home in a happy, but relieved frame of mind.
Now France prepare for tough knockout battles, starting with the surprising Greeks in the quarter-finals. "We have completed our task," said Carlsberg Man of the Match Zidane after the final whistle. "Now we will try to rest for the next three or four days and prepare for our quarter-final match. We can always improve our game, but our goal was reached tonight. I'm glad that Thierry Henry has started scoring again."
"We still have a way to go together," was Santini's viewpoint. "I'd like to congratulate our players and fans," he added. One of Santini's main tasks will be to ally a greater sense of urgency to his team's unlimited potential and persuade his defenders to cut out lax defensive errors such as the one that let in young Vonlanthen. So far, the miracle comeback against England has been followed by a stuttering draw against Croatia, and for three-quarters of this game, an uncomfortable harassing by the Swiss.
Defensive concerns notwithstanding, France can always rely on several players to bail them out of trouble at the other end. "The Swiss goal woke us up," Santini reflected. "The fact that Zidane, Henry and David Trezeguet are able to score always makes other teams have to think – we have several scoring options."
Kuhn was proud of his side's effort. "It's a dignified ending to our EURO campaign," he said. "My team fought until the end, and I congratulate them. In the first matches France did not really impress, but they are still my favourites to win the tournament."
France on course
Despite a tough group campaign, France stay on course for the European crown. When they hit top form – as they surely must at some stage - they are virtually unstoppable, and the death or glory of the knockout stages will now surely inspire men like Zidane to turn on the style. Santini will spend the next few days oiling the machine in an attempt to ensure that they begin hitting more impressive peaks at the right time.
©UEFA.com 1998-2011. All rights reserved.