During the late Nineties, early Noughties France couldn’t stop winning every tournament they turned up to.
World Cup 1998? Tick. Euro 2000? Tick. They would have walked your school’s gymnastics competition if they’d rocked up.
However there’s one tournament that isn’t talked about during that golden spell. The Confederations Cup in 2001.
South Korea was the setting as the country prepared to host their first World Cup the following year.
Club commitments in Europe- the season was still going on in Italy and Spain- meant France couldn’t call up a host of big guns. So how did they manage to win the tournament?
No Euro 2000 top goalscorers, no problem
David Trezeguet, who scored France’s winning goal at Euro 2000, was still in Italy trying to help Juventus topple Roma at the summit of Serie A.
With Thierry Henry also missing the goalscoring burden fell to Steve Marlet, who’d join Fulham later that summer, and Nicolas Anelka.
Both scored during a 5-0 destruction of hosts South Korea as France got their tournament off to the best possible start.
Bloodied noses and one-cap wonders
A second group game against Australia was seen as a formality, to the extent that Lemerre played Laurent Robert, Bastia striker Frederic Nee, Nantes defender Nicolas Gillet and Marseille’s Zoumana Camara.
Australia went ahead in the 60th minute through Clayton Zane and never looked back, securing a historic win.
For Nee, Gillet and Camara it would be the first and last time they ever pulled on a France shirt.
A new no.10
With Zinedine Zidane back in Spain helping Real Madrid win La Liga France boss Roger Lemerre was forced to turn to a new playmaker.
Eric Carriere, a diminutive midfielder from Lyon, was given the responsibility of wearing Zizou’s iconic no.10 shirt.
After a relatively quiet start to the tournament, and with France needing a win in their final group game, Carriere scored twice. A star was (temporarily) born.
A decimated Brazil
No squad had been as hard hit by the timing of the Confederations Cup than Brazil, who were without Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and a whole host of world-class stars.
They still made life difficult for France in the semi-finals, with Fluminense striker Ramon equalising after Robert Pires’ opening goal in the 30th minute.
It took a strike from captain Marcel Desailly to put France into the final and send a spirited Brazil back home.
Missing piece from the jigsaw
France met Japan in the final and if they were still struggling to adapt to life without Zizou the Japanese had a far bigger problem on their hands.
Hidetoshi Nakata, the star of Japan’s side, had returned to Italy to help Roma win Serie A.
In his absence Japan struggled to create clear opportunities, and France came out 1-0 winners thanks to a Patrick Vieira goal.
As dress reversals go, the Confederations Cup couldn’t have been better preparation for the 2002 World Cup.
Throw Zidane, Trezeguet, Henry, Claude Makelele, Emmanuel Petit and Fabien Barthez back into the mix and the tournament was France’s to lose, right?
Three games later France were heading back home without winning a game or even getting on the scoresheet.
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