The all-time World Cup

January 4th 2005
Rome, Stadio Nazionale
2-1 (0-1)

      GOALS                   39'  0-1  Raymond Braine
                              51'  1-1  Michel Platini
                              72'  2-1  Eric Cantona

      REFEREE                 Rudi Glöckner (East Germany)

      ATTENDANCE              38,000

      YELLOW CARDS            Verbiest (BEL)

      FRANCE (Coach: Aime Jacquet, system 4-4-2)

      16 Fabien Barthez
      15 Lilian Thuram
       8 Marcel Desailly
       5 Laurent Blanc
       6 Maxime Bossis                 (-70)
      14 Jean Tigana                   (-65)
      10 Michel Platini
       7 Didier Deschamps (captain)
      20 Zinedine Zidane
      18 Eric Cantona
       9 Just Fontaine                 (-46)

      12 Thierry Henry                 (+46)
       4 Luis Fernandez                (+65)
       3 Bixente Lizarazu              (+70)

      BELGIUM (Coach: Guy Thijs, system 4-3-3)

       1 Christian Piot
       2 Eric Gerets
       3 Armand Swartenbroeks (captain)
       4 Laurent Verbiest
      19 Jean Thissen
       8 Wilfried Van Moer             (-82)
      11 Jan Ceulemans
       7 René Vandereycken
      14 Raymond Braine
       9 Jef Mermans
      13 Paul Van Himst                (-58)

       6 Frank Vercauteren             (+58)
      10 Rik Coppens                   (+82)


    In the old national stadium in Rome two eternal rivals, France and Belgium, met in the first match in group F. France started as big favourites but looking at the Belgian line-up made everyone clear that this wasn't a team that would be beaten easily. Belgium would certainly be a match for France, and that was exactly what happened. This turned out to be the best match so far in the tournament, in a great atmosphere with 38,000 spectators producing enough noise for 100,000.

    Belgium-coach Guy Thijs, a great tactician, decided to have Zinedine Zidane marked in the zone by rightback Eric Gerets. But the French maestro was everywhere on the pitch and in the end mifielders Van Moer and Vandereycken were those to come across Zidane. It was the famous Belgian zonal defense, but Zidane wasn't to be restrained. He was the big ochestrator of most of France's attacks, supported by Platini of course and by the perpetual motion Tigana. Belgium came under pressure, but goalkeeper Christian Piot was in great form and kept his team in the race. He tipped a brilliant curveball from Zidane with a magnificent dive over the bar, held on after a dangerously bouncing shot by Thuram and was up to his task again after a Fontaine header.

    Belgium on their turn in this very alternating first half, had to rely on the class of Raymond Braine, who more than once was far too quick and skilful for Maxime Bossis. Three times he ran past the leftback and sent his cross into the box, but Jef Mermans was marked closely and successfully by Desailly and Blanc positioned himself very well to prevent the crosses from reaching their destination. The only real dangerous moment came after a somewhat weak backpass from Desailly, but Barthez came quickly way off his line to clear it before Mermans could take advantage.

    It was a tense combat, though the players would hardly go over the line. Vandereycken floored Tigana, but referee Rudi Glöckner kept his yellow card in the pocket, just like he seemed to close his eyes when Van Moer tackled Platini a bit too enthusiasticly. Laurent Verbiest, the Belgian sweeper, however did not escape punishment when he almost drew Zidane's shirt from his body. Verbiest, unlike he did so often in his career, gave up protesting heavily against his caution and even did not belittle Glöckner. It was maybe the best proof that the East German referee had things well under control.

    After 39 minutes the first goal in this match was scored, and it was surprisingly enough Belgium that scored it. What was not surprising was, that it was Braine who did the damage. He once more relegated Bossis and entered the box. Instead of crossing, he decided to do it all by himself this time. He blasted the ball high and hard inside the near post, Barthez had no single change: 0-1. France reacted immediately with a barrage of attacks, but it was Piot again who held them off. He punched a thundershot by Platini away and a new header from Fontaine went just near the post, the wrong side this time. At half-time Thijs' men were in front.

    Aimé Jacquet wasn't satisfied with how things were developing, he thought his strikers were too tame and substituted Fontaine with Thierry Henry. France increased the pace of the game and that paid off rapidly. Didier Deschamps shot at goal, the ball glanced off the white wall of Belgian defenders, just before Platini's feet, 10 metres in front of the goal. Platini wouldn't miss too many chances from 10 metres out, neither this time. That levelled the score at 1-1. In the Belgian team coach Guy Thijs took disappointing Paul Van Himst off and brought left midfielder Frank Vercauteren into the game, hoping to restore the balance in midfield. But Belgium could not regain control over this match. France were the better team now, replaced the tiring Tigana with Luis Fernandez and Lizarazu came in place of Bossis.

    In the 71st minute the match got its decision. And it was France that scored the goal. Platini sent Cantona away, with captain Armand Swartenbroeks behind him. The Frechman skilfully turned away from his marker and sent the ball over Piot into the net. Piot had left his goalline just a bit too early, it seemed; his only mistake in this match. Nevermind how much Belgium tried to even it, this match was out of their reach. The famous French backline from World Cup 1998 stood firm. Desailly was the better of Mermans, Lizarazu had more grip on Braine than Bossis ever had and Thuram succesfully marked also substituted Rik Coppens. France were happy with their win, it was the victory they thought they needed to advance to the second round. No Frenchman worried about the matches ahead against the Republic of Ireland and Chile. For Belgium this defeat certainly was a setback, but they would get new chances. And though they had lost against France, everyone agreed that this team would have a fair chance against both Chile and Ireland.

    Next week top favourites Brazil open their run to the title at home, in the huge Maracana Stadium, against the only African participant, Cameroon. A match of great prospect. The whole world is waiting for Pelé playing alongside Ronaldo. Will coach Mario Zagalo decide to bring Jairzinho or Garrincha, and will he gamble on Rivelino and Gerson together with Didi in one midfield? Cameroon are the underdogs, more than they have ever been. Will they be just cannonfodder, or can Milla and his friends cause an enormous upset like Cameroon did in 1990 against then World champions Argentina? Come back here next Friday and you will read everything. And what reading is concerned, Englishman John Reader will be present to keep to two sides apart when needed.


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