By Amjad Baker
France were the faster, the better, and the winner. They battled well in their revenge match against Czechs, eliminating their rivals from the early stage of Euro 2000 with a 2-1 win, to book their place in the quarterfinals.
Thanks to Youri Djorkaeff, who came off the bench to score the most delightful goal you can imagine, the Czechs were doomed to an early exit. France now stride forward, with the high spirits of a world champion, to join Italy and Holland the co-host. The world champions have yet to meet Holland in Amsterdam next Wednesday in a match which will determine who finishes top of the pool, and which teams they will face from Group C.
France's sweet revenge was particularly hot and passionate because they were eliminated by the Czech Republic, runners-up to Germany four years ago. In that match, the Czechs thrashed them out in the semi-final penalty shoot-out.
Thierry Henry, voted 'Man of the Match', had given Lemerre's side a seventh minute lead before a 35th minute penalty by Karel Poborsky brought the east Europeans level.
Roger Lemerre, the French coach, fell in love with his team's performance and was much delighted by his dynamic player Thierry Henry who celebrated the man-of-the-match title.
AFP quoted Lemerre as saying "congratulations to the team and the man-of-the-match. France will go through to the last eight. It's good. Our objective has been reached."
Henry was also delighted after scoring his second goal in two games to draw level with Yugoslavia's Savo Milosevic and Slovenia's Zlatko Zahovic as tournament top scorer.
"We conquered our nerves and showed that we can battle. The team worked very hard but I was disappointed I did not make it 2-0," said Henry who squandered a first-half chance after a sublime pass from Zinedine Zidane when the score was 1-0.
"I must learn to kill off matches and I am annoyed that I put my teammates in difficulty.
"But the important thing is that we are in the next round. This group is no cakewalk. Now I am really looking forward to a great game with Holland," said France's top scorer in the 1998 World Cup.
France lead resulted from a terrible mistake of the Czech defense in passing a 30 yard sball, allowing Henry to score a cold-blooded goal by sliding the ball between the legs of Pavel Srnicek.
France's 1-0 lead spurred the Czechs to become both tougher and wilder, as they searched for the draw which came in the 35th minute from a penalty kick by Poborsky.
The penalty incident, ten minutes from the interval, happened when Nedved went down under a challenge from France captain Didier Deschamps right on the edge of the area.
Tomas Rosicky dispossessed Emmanuel Petit in the midfield and found Smicer whose slide rule pass sent Nedved tearing towards goal only to collapse under Deschamps' challenge - albeit just outside the area.
Djorkaeff, who was sent on in place of Petit, wasted little time in making his presence felt as he both started and finished the move that lead to the decisive goal.
His pass found Henry who held the ball up on the left of the area before sliding across a pass towards Vincent Candela, called into the side at the last minute after Bixente Lizarazu injured himself in the warm-up - Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)