France finished top of Group A after a resounding and entertaining 5-0 victory over New Zealand at the Stade de France on Sunday 22 June. Goals from Oliver Kapo, Thierry Henry, Djibril Cisse, Ludovic Giuly and Robert Pires perfectly reflected the gulf in talent between the two teams. The Oceania champions have still to register a point in the competition, while France must wait until tomorrow to find out if they will face Cameroon, Turkey or Brazil in the second semi-final at Saint Denis on Thursday 26 June.
For the second match running Jacques Santini made wholesale changes to France’s starting line-up, bringing back stars Thierry Henry, Lilian Thuram, Sylvain Wiltord, Marcel Desailly and Bixente Lizarazu. The inclusion of Nantes’ Mickael Landreau meant Les Bleus have begun each match with a different keeper. New Zealand coach Mick Waitt brought in Chris Bouckenooghe for the suspended Chris Killen but otherwise stuck with the same side that performed well for an hour against Colombia.
Santini’s men started like an express train. On their return to the Stade de France for their first FIFA game since that memorable 1998 FIFA World Cup™ Final, they had their opponents on the back foot for virtually the opening 20 minutes. The only French player not to have played a minute in the tournament so far, Ludovic Giuly, looked particularly menacing down the right flank. The Monaco man was playing with a zest that had been absent against Japan and it was proving infectious.
With barely five minutes gone, crowd favourite Henry almost scored the cheekiest of goals. The Arsenal striker nutmegged New Zealand captain Chris Zoricich inside the box close to the goalline only to see keeper Mike Utting bravely smother his shot.
The move brought a deafening roar from the Saint Denis stands and sparked a series of one-touch passing, tricks and flicks culminating in one of the goals of the tournament. Oliver Kapo began the move with an exquisite drag-flick down the right touchline to Giuly before accepting the return pass on the edge of the area, twisting inside a defender and striking a hard, rising shot that stung Utting’s fingertips before hitting the top corner of the net.France were on fire and the All Whites, playing in all black, had no answer (1:0, 17’).
Three minutes later it was 2-0. Giuly skipped past his man on the right side before clipping a delightful hanging cross to the back post where Thierry Henry out jumped his marker to send a downward header past the sprawling dive of Utting (2:0, 20’).
Les Bleus were now toying with their opponents and after a stunning six-man move had opened up the New Zealand defence, Djibril Cisse unbelievably failed to make it three from inside the six-yard box. The Auxerre striker side-footed the simple chance against the top of the crossbar (22’).
New Zealand came out with more purpose after the break and had a golden opportunity to reduce the deficit when Vaughan Coveny was sent clear on goal, but his left-foot shot was turned around the post by Landreau (49’).
France had definitely moved down a gear or two but Giuly was still eager on the right. The tiny midfielder battled past two defenders before feeding Benoit Pedretti whose fierce strike missed the far post by inches (58’). It sparked more attacks with first Cisse bringing a good save from Utting after running through the Kiwi defence (65’), before Thierry Henry produced his party trick on the left, beating his marker before crossing from the goalline for Cisse to side foot into an empty net ( 3:0, 70’).
With the game moving into injury time, France added two more goals to reflect their overall dominance. Giuly capped a fine performance with a sweet volley from just inside the area after Philippe Mexes had flicked the ball into his path (4:0, 91’). Then substitute Robert Pires fired a low shot into the bottom corner to add salt into New Zealand’s wounds (5:0, 93).