Croatia and Switzerland, who shared a goalless draw not worthy of the final phase of a European Championship, opened proceedings in England’s group. The result, however, favoured the principal’s chances of progressing, regardless of Sunday night’s draw.
England’s game opened with a furious five-minute spell, before France started to take control. Shots from Pires, Zidane and Trezeguet went close without troubling James in the England goal. Confined largely to their own half, Beckham and Co. stood firm, absorbed the pressure and started venturing forward themselves. Rooney and Gerrard were looking for a way past the outstanding Gallas, before England were awarded a free kick on the right flank. Beckham’s floating ball into the French area was met perfectly by the rising Frank Lampard, his unstoppable header giving Barthez no chance and England the lead.
The French laid siege to England’s goal at the start of the second period, with James and the defence equal to anything Zidane and Vieira could throw at them. With France continuing to press forward, Rooney won the ball in midfield and streaked into the French area, where he was stopped illegally by Silvestre. German referee, Dr. Markus Merk, pointed to the spot and Beckham had the golden opportunity to put the game out of the defending champions’ reach. His firmly struck kick was beaten out by former Manchester United team-mate Fabien Barthez and France were off the hook. Yet England remained focused and determined to complete the job in hand, until Zidane demonstrated his greatness deep into injury time, turning the game on its head.
First his free kick from just outside the area gave James no chance and only seconds later Henry was brought down by the England keeper following an ill-judged Gerrard back pass. Zidane scored coolly from the spot to give France an unlikely 2-1 victory. English hearts were broken, but on Sunday night’s evidence, the team should have no problems going a long way in the competition.