France 0 Italy 2: Au revoir Henry as Italy set up quarter-final duel with Spain
Au revoir to France last night and, as far as his international career is concerned, quite possibly farewell to Thierry Henry. If it turns out to be the end for Henry then at least no-one will forget his last act: inadvertently steering in Italy's second goal and hastening the decline of a French team who have crashed out of Euro 2008 in humiliating fashion.
It was Italy who remembered just in time how to play like world champions and, having dispatched France, it is they who will play Spain in the quarter-final in Vienna on Sunday. Their fears of a Netherlands' stitch-up proved groundless as Marco van Basten's team swept aside Romania to open up Group C and in fact if any team could be accused of not trying then it was France who depart Euro 2008 with one miserly point and a whole heap of problems.
Their demise seemed inevitable from the 24th minute when Eric Abidal conspired to get himself sent off and concede a penalty which Andrea Pirlo scored. When, in the second half, Henry jabbed out a toe and put Daniele de Rossi's free-kick into his own net it really was all over for the exhausted 10 men of France. They beat England effortlessly in March with half their first team missing, they have proved complete flops at Euro 2008. What does that say about Fabio Capello's brave boys?
And what of Henry, who won his 102nd cap last night in a team that finally looked its age? At 30, Henry may still be three years younger than David Beckham but he was booed by some of France's fans on the occasion of his 100th cap at the Stade de France and the word is that he is considering his options. He can be self-obsessed, he may love to posture, but after winning a World Cup and a European Championship, and in tears at the end, this was a sad way for Henry potentially to bow out.
"Everything went against us, we started well," Henry said. "I can see that Italy will say it was a penalty and a red card but we thought the same when [Andre] Ooijer handled it against us in the last game. Nothing went our way. The game changed with that penalty. We were plagued with long balls. We all knew the importance of the game so it was very disappointing. It is very difficult to play against Italy with 10 men."
France lost Franck Ribery to injury early in the game, but one point from Group C says that this team has been beset by bad decisions from the start which will surely spell the end of Raymond Domenech's spell in charge of the team. With his team eliminated, the France coach bizarrely chose a moment immediately after the end of the game to propose to his girlfriend Estelle Denis, a television presenter, live on air. Somehow, it was not something you could imagine crossing Sir Alex Ferguson's mind at such a moment.
Proving that romance is never far from the thoughts of the average Frenchman, Domenech said: "Everything was so sad, I thought life has some beautiful moments and you should tell people you love them. I wanted to show some emotion. I'm not going to repeat it." The emotion is likely to be of a different kind among the French press who have been gunning for Domenech since before the last World Cup. "You should ask the president [of the French football federation] about my future," Domenech said. "I'm not going to speculate on my future. This team has a real future."
Given that his future as France coach is likely to be brief, it could be argued that Domenech is using his influential position while he still has it to sway the mind of Denis, 25 years his junior. Roberto Donadoni was also hinting at a mid-life crisis when the Italy coach conceded that he "could see hair on my pillow", so great was the stress of qualifying for the knockout stage of Euro 2008. "Now I'm hoping to see it grow back a bit," he said. "As a footballer I was used to achieving thanks with hard work and sweat. I have to trust the boys to do it so all the merit goes to them."
With Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso both booked and now suspended for the Spain game Donadoni's team are not without problems. Another major problem is the form of Luca Toni, who currently looks like he would not score a goal at Euro 2008 if they extended the tournament until Christmas. It was hard to believe that he scored 39 goals in 46 matches for Bayern Munich as he ran through his full repertoire of misses last night.
Last night Domenech dropped Lilian Thuram for Abidal which must have been humiliating for the 36-year-old with 142 caps even if his previous two performances at Euro 2008 have been fairly awful. It was a big decision to leave out a player of such reputation and experience and it turned out to be an absolute clanger.
Usually France's first-choice left-back ahead of Patrice Evra and Gael Clichy, Abidal looked out of sorts at centre-back right from the very beginning. On 24 minutes Toni got a toe to a long ball over the top and set himself anxiously for another one of his haphazard efforts on goal. He need not have worried. Following closely behind him was Abidal who clattered into the back of the Italian like a man lurching forward on a train that has stopped suddenly.
There was no doubt about the penalty that referee Lubos Michel awarded and little argument when he waved a red card in Abidal's direction. Pirlo dispatched the penalty and the big screens in the stadium captured Domenech shaking his head in despair. He had already lost Ribery to injury in the 10th minute and brought on Samir Nasri to replace the winger. In the chaotic aftermath, Nasri, who is set to sign for Arsenal this season, was himself substituted for Jean-Alain Boumsong. He had only played for 16 minutes.
Coupet pushed Fabio Grosso's free-kick from the right wing onto the post, Toni missed a lot of chances and in the second half France battled on manfully. Claude Makelele, who was later to join Thuram in announcing his own international retirement (again), was excellent. With news of the Netherlands' lead filtering through to the crowd, De Rossi hit a free-kick from 30 yards out. Henry tried to block the ball and instead steered it past Coupet.
It was over for France despite Karim Benzema's late effort that was saved by Gianluigi Buffon and, presumably, all over for Domenech. Let's hope his girlfriend gave him the answer he was hoping for: he could do with some good news.
France (4-4-2): Coupet (Lyons); Clerc (Lyons), Gallas (Arsenal), Abidal (Barcelona), Evra (Manchester United); Govou (Lyons), Makelele (Chelsea), Toulalan (Lyons), Ribéry (Bayern Munich); Henry (Barcelona), Benzema (Lyons). Substitutes used: Nasri (Marseilles) for Ribéry, 10; Boumsong (Lyons) for Nasri, 26; Anelka (Chelsea) for Govou, 66.
Italy (4-2-3-1): Buffon (Juventus); Zambrotta (Milan), Chiellini (Juventus), Panucci (Roma), Grosso (Lyons); Pirlo (Milan), De Rossi (Roma); Cassano (Sampdoria), Perrotta (Roma), Gattuso (Milan); Toni (Bayern Munich). Substitutes used: Ambrosini (Milan) for Pirlo, 55; Camoranesi (Juventus) for Perrotta, 64; Aquilani (Roma) for Gattuso, 82.
Referee: L Michel (Slovakia).
Booked: France Evra, Govou, Boumsong, Henry; Italy Chiellini, Pirlo, Gattuso.
Sent off: Abidal (24).
Man of the match: De Rossi.