Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Chink in Armour of Formidable French - EURO 2004; Santini's Ageing Backline Offers Rivals Glimmer of Hope

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Chink in Armour of Formidable French - EURO 2004; Santini's Ageing Backline Offers Rivals Glimmer of Hope

Article excerpt

European Championship record

Qualified 1960, 64, 68, 84,

Best achievement Winners, 92, 96, 2000 1984, 2000 JUST who can beat France?

That's the big question going into Euro 2004 and the answer, as far as most people are concerned, is nobody.

The best horse doesn't always win The Derby, the best tennis player sometimes fails at Wimbledon but generally speaking, the cream usually does rise to the top.

There is no doubt that France coach Jacques Santini, appointed after the World Cup debacle, has the best players from which to choose.

Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, Claude Makelele, Marcel Desailly ... there's no need to go on.

Dwell too long on the calibre and pedigree of the French squad and

you are likely to feel the first signs of an approaching inferiority complex.

The bottom line is, however, that the French remain the country to beat if you want to win Euro 2004. Firm favourites to be the first ever country to successfully defend a European Championship title, France are truly formidable.

Santini's side won every one of their qualifying matches and last tasted defeat in February 2003, when the Czech Republic beat them 2-0 in a friendly in Paris.

It all adds up to a daunting opening match for England in Lisbon on 13 June but Sven-Goran Eriksson will be hoping that, somehow, the demons which descended upon Roger Lemerre's side in South Korea two years ago will revisit Zidane and his colleagues in Portugal.

It is a forlorn hope. France seem to have laid that particular ghost some while ago.

As Santini, the new Tottenham coach, pointed out: "I wasn't there for the World Cup but as a Frenchman, I shared in the humiliation. Nothing is certain in football but I am sure the same thing won't happen again. The team have made excellent progress and there is no reason why we should not approach Euro 2004 full of self-belief and hunger."

England, Croatia and Switzerland will obviously be looking for weaknesses in the French unit, but it's not easy to find them.

As an offensive force they have no equals but there may be a chink of light when they have to defend. …

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