The World Cup Calendar, June 12th. Les Bleus give South Africa les bleus

France hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1998, a tournament that they would go on to win in
emphatic style. Their opening game against South Africa showed the world just how good
Zidane and co could be. South Africa were certainly not the biggest test that the French
would face in their route to the final, but they were a side on good form entering the World
Cup. To put to bed a side playing five at the back so convincingly was a solid platform to
build upon.

France took their time getting the first goal on that sunny evening in Marseille, but they
looked to be in total control. A long throw-in found the head of France number 9 Stephane
Guivarc’h, who found himself totally unmarked between two defenders. Guivarc’h headed
just well wide of the target, and appeared to pick up a knock after landing awkwardly. The
Rangers forward had to leave the pitch due to this injury, and was replaced by Christophe
Dugarry, a striker who had become used to playing at the Stade Velodrome after joining
Marseille six months prior to this game.

The siege on the South African goal continued. The immensely talented Zinedine Zidane
carried the ball past the halfway line and played an inch perfect pass between three South
African defenders, finding Dugarry whose turn of pace saw him beat the offside trap and get
one on one with Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Hans Vonk. Dugarry seemed unsure of whether
to slot the ball under Vonk, or carry it round him. As a result, the striker held on to the ball
for a little too long, before finally hitting it into the keepers body. The ball came lose,
looking to fall into the path of the oncoming French attackers, however Vonk reacted
quickly to stab the ball away to his defenders.

10 minutes after joining the game and Dugarry had put Les Bleus ahead. Zidane hit a fizzing
corner into the middle of the six yard box. Dugarry, who had been stood against the keeper,
burst forward to latch on to the cross, throwing his head at the ball and turning it past the
helpless Vonk. The crowd in Marseille went wild. Dugarry sped away from the players, arms
outstretched, before turning into a bizarre overemphasised jog, eyes wide and tongue out.
It was crazy, but maybe scoring the goal to put your team a goal up in World Cup on your
own turf is going to make you a little crazy!

South Africa did muster a chance towards the end of the first half. They took a set piece
from a wide left position. The ball dipped and ducked through the air, causing French
‘keeper Fabian Barthez to over commit himself by rushing off his line. The cross met the big
6″5 Marseille defender Pierre Issa. The crowd, who would ordinarily love to see their
defender score from a set piece in the Stade Veledrome, had their hearts in their mouths as
he leapt above his marker, Laurent Blanc. The header bounced a good deal wide of the goal,
much to the relief of the French. A punishing half of football very nearly had been wasted
for them.

France kept their performance levels high, hitting South Africa with chance after chance,
barely allowing the opposition a shot at goal. Despite their dominance, they didn’t get a
second goal until the 77th minute of play. Dugarry took a ball down in the box with his
chest, shielded it with his body and played a square pass to Youri Djorkaeff. Djorkaeff
shimmied left, then took a touch wide, bamboozling the South African defender tasked with
closing him down. He teed up his shot, and fired low and hard. Vonk dived, looking to claim
the ball with ease. His defender, Issa, had other ideas. He slid in to steer the ball wide, but
to his horror, the ball bounced off his outstretched leg and loop into the empty net. 2-0 and
the game was over, the French wasn’t looked like letting their one goal lead slip, the second
secured it.

The best goal of the game occurred two minutes into stoppage time, admittedly against a
South African side who had switched off a little. Zidane crossed the ball in from a corner
right to the back centre of the 18 yard box, attempting a special set piece routine. It looked
to have gone awry, as the South African player quickly chased down the Monaco’s star
striker Thierry Henry. Henry outmuscled the defender, found space between a further three
South Africans with a freakish burst of pace, leaving one on his back. Out rushed Hans Vonk,
only for Henry to quickly dink the ball past the ‘keeper and into the back of the net. It was
one of the most impressive solo goals of the tournament.

This match was certainly far from competitive. Rather, it was a master class by Aimi
Jacquet’s charges. They were simply scintillating from start to finish. There was of course
the worry of that Stephane Guivarc’h injury, but with the substitute performance of
Christophe Dugarry, Les Bleus had cause to be optimistic. South Africa did put in improved
performances against Denmark and Saudi Arabia, gaining a point in each game, but it was
not enough to see them progress to the knockout rounds. For France, however, it was the
beginning of a wonderful tournament. Henry’s Va Va Voom moment being the highlight of a
glorious game of football.

Tomorrow’s game: June 13th. Spain v Netherlands. 2014.