France got back to winning ways on the world stage with a deserved victory at the FIFA Confederations Cup (18-29 June). After the disappointment of being knocked out in the first round at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan ™ without a win or a goal, the hosts proved they were back to their sumptuous best, scoring 12 goals and winning four of their five matches inside 90 minutes.
Spurred on by Gallic gatherings in Stade de France (Paris), Stade Gerland (Lyon) and Stade Geoffroy-Guichard (St. Etienne), France gradually got into their groove with wins over Colombia (1-0), Japan (2-1), New Zealand (5-0), and Turkey (3-2) before overcoming Cameroon in the Final with a Golden Goal.
The victories together with familiar anthems all evoked memories of the country's greatest footballing hour in the summer of 98. The atmosphere in the Final, however, was a far cry from that experienced five years previously, but was nevertheless memorable as players walked on to the field carrying a giant image of Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe, the player that had collapsed and later died at the semi-final match against Colombia on 26 June.
The Arsenal hit-man picked up the adidas Golden Shoe award thanks to his four strikes - winners in France's opener against Colombia and in the Final against Cameroon as well as goals versus New Zealand and Turkey. But it was Henry's all-round game, his speed and strength allied to his flair for the daring and original that captivated the French crowds, the Technical Study Group (TSG), who named him Man of the Match on three occasions (Vs. New Zealand, Turkey and Cameroon), and journalists, who voted him the tournament's most outstanding player and adidas Golden Ball winner.
Zico always pointed towards the Confederations Cup as his first big challenge after taking the reins of the Japanese national team from Frenchman Philippe Troussier following Korea/Japan 2002. And despite impressive displays, particularly against New Zealand (3-0) and France (1-2), the jury is still out for the Asian (AFC) champions after they were eliminated in the first round following the make-or-break 1-0 loss to Colombia.
Colombia reached the last four thanks to a tight defence, the predatory instincts of Giovanni Hernandez (3 goals) and a series of fine second-half performances. But perhaps the biggest surprise of the competition was that made by fellow semi-finalists and invited team Turkey. After a third-place finish at Korea/Japan, a similar result among the elite of the game should not have raised too many eyebrows. But with many of his established players either injured or unavailable, coach Senol Gunes blooded a number of youngsters in the competition, prompting predictions that the new kids would be out of their depth.
However, led by strikers Tuncay Sanli (3 goals) and Okan Yilmaz (3 goals) midfielder Gokdeniz Karadeniz (2 goals) and a large, colourful and vociferous local Turkish support, the Europeans produced top quality football in always eventful matches. After defeating USA 2-1 in the opener, they lost to a last-minute penalty to Cameroon (0-1) before getting their revenge on Brazil (2-2) for their two defeats at Korea/Japan 2002 by eliminating the world champions from the tournament. Turkey lost a spirited semi-final to France 3-2 (this time missing a last-gasp penalty to equalise) before clinching third place with another late strike in a 2-1 victory over Colombia. Turkish football is definitely on the rise.
Goals to savour
In terms of quality of goals, France 2003 had it all. Among the 37 goals in 16 matches (2.31/match), there were some incredible strikes. From Nakata's 25-yard bullet to make it 2-0 in the opening match against New Zealand to Yilmaz's 20-yard pass into the bottom corner of Colombia's net in the third-place match, the competition was littered with glorious goals. In between, there were some belters from distance such as New Zealand's Raf De Gregorio against Colombia, Nakamura's cultured free-kick into the French top corner and Samuel Etoo's late winner versus Brazil; as well as some finely-worked team goals such as Hernandez's equaliser against Turkey, Sanli's winner versus USA and the majority of France's 12 goals in the tournament.
In honour of Foe
Sadly, France 2003 will not be remembered for those cracking goals but for the death of Cameroonian midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe. The player collapsed unchallenged during the second half of the semi-final match against Colombia in Lyon and was later pronounced dead. The news, so unexpected and seemingly without explanation, shocked the footballing world. Miles away in Paris an hour later, France played Turkey in an emotional second semi-final with many thoughts turned towards Cameroon's lost son. In unprecedented scenes on a football field, players lined-up barely able to control their tears, and when Henry tapped in the opener, the French team celebrated by pointing to the skies as a tribute to the player.
Foe's presence was equally felt in the Final where Cameroon and French players stood together behind a giant picture of the giant player to observe a minute's silence. Fittingly, following Henry's Golden Goal winner, France's captain Marcel Desailly called over his counterpart Rigobert Song to help him hold aloft the Confederations Cup. Among numerous written tributes in the crowd, one banner read: "A Lion never dies, it only sleeps".
Brazil, Cameroon, Colombia, France, Japan, New Zealand, Turkey and USA.
Saint Denis (Paris), Stade Gerland (Lyon) and Geoffroy-Guichard (St. Etienne)
- Thierry Henry (FRA), 4 goals
- Tuncay Sanli (TUR), Shunsuke Nakamura (JAP) Giovanni Hernandez (COL), Robert Pires (FRA), Okan Yilmaz (TUR), 3 goals