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Israel frustrate faltering France

Saturday, 4 September 2004

By Chris Burke at the Stade de France

[1] A new-look France side began their 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign in disappointing fashion as a determined Israel display earned the visitors an unexpected Group 4 point.

Big-names retired

[2] With the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly and Bixente Lizarazu having called time on their international careers after defeat by Greece in the UEFA EURO 2004™ quarter-finals, and Raymond Domenech having replaced Jacques Santini as coach, it was an unfamiliar-looking French side that took to the field in Paris.

Formation change

[3] Domenech switched France to a 3-5-2 formation, with Grégory Coupet standing in for Fabien Barthez in goal, Sébastien Squillaci and Gaël Givet coming into defence and Patrice Evra taking up a midfield role. They began in somewhat uncertain fashion and Israel enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, with left-sided midfield player Yigal Antebi particularly influential. However, the clever No14 was forced off by injury in the 14th minute, and the visitors thereafter adopted a counterattacking strategy.

Tentative opening

[4] New French captain Patrick Vieira had a header cleared off the goal line and both William Gallas and Claude Makelele spurned chances in a first half where France rarely threatened. Vieira, however, was closely marked by the Israeli midfield, restricting his influence.

No way through

[5] In defence, Israel remained solid with Ben Haim and captain Arik Banado superb throughout. France strikers Louis Saha and Thierry Henry started dropping deep in the hope of turning the game, and briefly, with Robert Pires and Ludovic Giuly coming on, the French briefly threatened to take maximum points.

Strong finish

[6] But Israel finished strongly, with Walid Badir and Idan Tal taking control of midfield, and Yossi Benayoun a constant menace to France's back three. Elsewhere, Klimi Saban and Omer Golan enjoyed impressive debuts. It might have been even better for Israel as Yaniv Katan's 67th-minute corner was met by Badir, but the midfield player's header was cleared off the line by Giuly.

Late rally

[7] The French put on a late rally, chances falling to Giuly and Pires. But the night belonged to Avraham Grant's well-drilled outfit who hung on for a well-deserved point. France were booed off the pitch by the disgruntled home support, and will hope to improve as they visit the Faroe Islands on Wednesday.

Buoyant mood

[8] Israel, meanwhile, will be in buoyant mood for the visit of Cyprus the same day. They are just the latest side who will have to learn to live without their genius No10, no easy thing as the likes of Brazil and Argentina will testify. But they must learn quickly if they are to grace Germany.

Israeli supporters celebrate their point