In the second match of the FIFA Confederations Cup France 2003, France edged a closely-fought encounter with Colombia on Wednesday 18 June in the Stade Gerland in Lyon. A first-half Thierry Henry penalty was enough to give the Bleus all three points, but France failed to dominate proceedings and could easily have conceded a draw in the closing minutes as the valiant Colombians poured forward. The South Americans will take heart from their performance, if not the result, as they prepare for their must-win encounter with New Zealand. France, meanwhile, take on group leaders Japan in their next outing.

Numerous absentees in the French squad meant Jacques Santini was able to give a few youngsters a run, notably in midfield (Olivier Dacourt, Benoît Pedretti, Olivier Kapo). Early on the South Americans controlled the middle of the park through Elson Becerra and Giovanni Hernandez, and they had the best chance early on, as Ruben Dario Velasquez (10’) hit a powerful free kick just wide. A pumped-up Thierry Henry then broke down the left but an excellent opportunity was squandered. Auxerre number nine Djibril Cissé was served up two chances by Sylvain Wiltord (26’, 27’) and another from an Henry free-kick (31’), but try as he might it just would not go in.

The 1998 world champions were gaining control by this point, and when Wiltord broke down the right and scooped a cross back into the box, the ball hit Velasquez on the arm. Lucilio Cardoso (Portugal) pointed to the spot and Thierry Henry stepped up to convert (1 : 0, 39’). The hosts were suddenly on fire; Cissé broke on the right and set up Olivier Kapo, whose snap shot was stopped by Oscar Cordoba (44’). The Auxerre midfielder then set up “Titi” Henry, only for the “Gunner” to be foiled by the Colombian keeper, and when the ball broke to Olivier Dacourt he struck a powerful reflex shot from the edge of the box onto the post. Half-time came as a welcome break for the Cafeteros.

Colombia came out fighting in the second half though and upped the pace somewhat. Becerra burst clear behind the French left flank on no less than three occasions (52’, 53’, 54’) only to see his crosses intercepted by Bixente Lizarazu and Marcel Desailly. The Bleus were suddenly on the back foot as Velasquez found space behind the back line and struck a powerful shot into the side netting (59’). Robert Pirès’ arrival in midfield had a steadying influence on his team-mates as Wiltord once again went close (63’) and an enterprising Thierry Henry free kick slammed against the woodwork (70’).

Fatigue began to set in towards the later stages but the South Americans, who have failed to score in a competitive international for over a year, looked in determined mood. The tireless Becerra appeared to have won a penalty when he got the better of the French defence, only for Mr. Cardoso to produce a yellow card for diving!

Francisco Maturana’s charges threw everything forward in the last ten minutes. Gerardo Bedoya produced a sublime cross for Victor Aristizabal, whose volley was deflected by Grégory Coupet (85’). The last chance of the game fell to Velasquez, who cannoned a shot against the bar (89’). The hosts can count themselves lucky then, and the South American visitors will be regretting a string of missed opportunities at the death. The Colombians now face New Zealand in a match neither side can afford to lose.