The 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ does not hold happy memories for France. Beaten 1-0 in the Opening Match of the tournament by Senegal, the reigning world champions had little margin for error when they took on Uruguay in their second game in Busan. In need of a win to kick-start the defence of their crown, Roger Lemerre’s side were held to a sterile goalless draw that left them on the brink of elimination. A 2-0 defeat to Denmark a few days later confirmed their untimely exit from the tournament.
The man who skippered Les Bleus against the Uruguayans on that June day eight years ago was Marcel Desailly. FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the former central defender about that frustrating stalemate and gauged his views on the latest meeting between the two countries, Friday’s Group A match in Cape Town.
FIFA.com: Marcel, what are your memories of that match against Uruguay at Korea/Japan 2002?
Marcel Desailly: It was a real turning point for the golden generation of 1998-2000. The team was virtually the same, we were just as well prepared and just as motivated, and yet nothing went right. I’m a real believer in cycles and that was the end of ours. The injury to Zidane (in the final warm-up match) and the defeat to Senegal had sapped our confidence and all of a sudden everything started going against us. Nothing went our way. We had the top goalscorers in the three leading European leagues in our team and we created lots of chances. The only thing was, we just couldn’t score.
How much did Thierry Henry’s sending-off after 25 minutes affect your chances in that game?
You only have to look at Titi’s career stats and check the number of times he was sent off to see that was a unique case. We’d lost our first game and we just couldn’t afford to lose our second; we would have gone out if we had. I can assure you we were really feeling the pressure out on the pitch and that was one of the turning points of the match. Thierry was someone who could have made all the difference.
Can you see any comparisons between 2002 and the situation now?
None whatsoever. Like I said before, I really had the feeling we were at the end of a cycle then. I have real belief in the current French team, though. I think they have a big future. They seem to have a lot of belief and now we’ll see what they can do. They’ve taken a lot of criticism lately but they can put all that behind them by starting off with a good win.
You seem very hopeful about their chances.
Of course I am. We have a talented team and all they need to do is get on the right track. The players are in really good shape and it’s now up to the coach to get the tactics right. There’s no reason for pessimism. Things are going to work out fine. I think this generation is even more talented than ours was. They just haven’t had the chance to show it yet.