Belief restored in Les Bleus
© Foto-net

It was touch and go for a while, but France got there in the end. A group phase full of ups and downs ended with Eric Cantona's side sitting proudly atop of Group A after edging past Uruguay with a 4-3 win on Monday evening.

That outcome was in doubt following an opening-day defeat by Senegal and a penalty-shootout win over Iran. But as coach Cantona later explained, he was expecting a tough battle in the section all along. "Our pool was far and away the toughest in the tournament," said the former Manchester United and France player.

"We lost to Senegal but I still felt we controlled the game. In our second match we very nearly paid for letting Iran come back but against Uruguay, we knew we had to produce a great performance and I'm thrilled my players did just that."

The group-clinching win over the Uruguayans came as something of a surprise. The two sides had crossed swords at the last two FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups, with the Celeste winning on both occasions. This time around, however, El Tri held their nerve to seal a vital triumph despite a strong fightback by the South Americans.

"This is a victory for the whole team, especially as it's the last World Cup for a few of the players," said Didier Samoun, who played no small part in the win with two goals and an assist. "We always believed in our abilities. All we'd been lacking was that little something that could tilt a game in our favour. Let's hope we've got it back for good now."

That said, France still have to find a solution to their inconsistent form if they are to make further progress in the competition, as Samoun was quick to acknowledge. "We are looking to play good football and improve our aerial play, but it's not easy to get everything in place. We've been playing with fire at times and we've had one or two scares along the way."

We're aiming to win the cup as a way of saying thanks to the people of Marseille for all their support
France coach Eric Cantona is eager to repay the home fans by lifting aloft the trophy.

The next obstacle for the 2005 world champions is an appetising quarter-final duel with Italy, their first meeting in the history of the event. Whether on sand or grass, the two nations enjoy pitting their wits against each other, not least because of the friendship that binds many of the players off the pitch and their long-running rivalry. "We have to beat everyone if we're going to win the tournament," added Samoun. "Lifting the trophy is our sole objective."

Those thoughts of victory are echoed by Cantona. "," he said. "We're gradually getting stronger but I know we can get even better and achieve something very special. Our next match will not be easy, though. Italy play a similar type of game to Uruguay."

The France coach is right to be cautious. The Squadra Azzurra have never looked stronger on the world stage and are brimming with confidence, as Diego Maradona Jr confirmed. "It doesn't matter who we come up against. We are going all the way and the trophy will be ours."

Cantona and his charges might just have something to say about that come Thursday evening.