Reserves Fill In as France Clinches Group C
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 25, 1998; Page E4
LYON, France, June 24 On the surface, France had little motivation to beat Denmark today in its World Cup first-round finale at Stade Gerland. A round-of-16 berth had been secured six days earlier, and with three starters in danger of suspension if they drew another yellow card and a few others in need of a break, Coach Aime Jacquet assembled a less-imposing lineup.
But as a host seeking to fulfill lofty expectations set by a passionate public and press, there is no such thing as a meaningless match. Les Bleus (the Blues) are mandated to put on a spectacular show, no matter the circumstances. Today they weren't as dominant as in their previous two games, but were good enough to knock off Denmark, 2-1, and become the first team to complete the opening round without a loss or tie.
First place in Group C earned France a second-round meeting against Paraguay, the runner-up in Group D, Sunday in Lens. The Danes (1-1-1) finished second behind France, although they didn't clinch their spot until it was apparent that third-place South Africa (0-1-2) could not overtake them while tying Saudi Arabia 2-2 this afternoon in Bordeaux. Denmark will play Group D champion Nigeria on Sunday in Saint-Denis.
"I am very happy. I am very proud that we managed to get this third win," Jacquet said. "This new lineup managed to continue in the footsteps of the previous team. We continued to play with composure, confidence and intensity."
Well, intensity certainly wasn't the primary characteristic of a game that had the feel of an international friendly. But Jacquet did show off his depth by penciling in a lineup missing seven regulars: Midfielder Zinedane Zidane began a two-game suspension for receiving a red card against Saudi Arabia last week; defenders Bixente Lizarazu and Laurent Blanc and midfielder Didier Deschamps have one yellow card each; defender Lilian Thuram was rested; and forward Christophe Dugarry is out indefinitely with a leg injury.
In addition, wing Thierry Henry (three goals in two games) didn't enter until the 72nd minute. By that time, the French reserves had forged a 2-1 lead on goals by Lyon native Youri Djorkaeff in the 12th minute and ponytailed midfielder Emmanuel Petit in the 57th. In between, Danish captain Michael Laudrup scored in the 42nd minute to even the match at halftime.
"It was a good game of football," Denmark Coach Bo Johansson said, "but there's no doubt France was the better team on the day."
Djorkaeff did an admirable job in the playmaking role filling in for Zidane, France's quiet superstar, distributing the ball well and creating some scoring chances. He didn't have to work very hard to score his goal, though, as forward David Trezuguet was tripped in the penalty area by Jes Hogh. Goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel got a hand on Djorkaeff's penalty kick, but all he did was slow the progress of the well-struck ball into the lower left corner.
Laudrup also scored on a penalty kick, a moment after Martin Jorgensen was dragged down by Vincent Candela while chasing a free kick. Goalkeeper Fabien Barthez went to his right, Laudrup's kick went the other direction.
Petit's go-ahead goal was not a pretty sight. Following a mad scramble in the box, the ball squirted to Petit, who smacked an 18-yard shot through a forest of legs and past Schmeichel.
Knowing that South Africa was struggling in its game, Denmark was in no rush for an equalizer. The closest it came was during injury time, when Stig Tofting's 25-yard free kick was bobbled by Barthez. Fortunately for the French, the ball floated just a foot or two above their goalie, who reached up and grabbed it before falling to the turf. His reward was a kiss on the top of his bald head from one of his teammates.
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