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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Henry's new chance to play in a World Cup Final

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Thierry Henry has the opportunity to be closer to the glory than he was in the 1998 World Cup Final, when he was sitting on the bench.

In fact, the Arsenal striker had played in all six of France's matches before a late sending-off cost him his spot in the 3-0 win against Brazil.

Defender Marcel Desailly picked up his second booking in the 68th minute, which prompted Aime Jacquet to bring on Patrick Vieira instead of another forward.

It looked unlikely at the start of the tournament that Henry would get a second opportunity to play in football's most prestigious game.

Indeed, three weeks ago France looked dead and buried following two sluggish performances in the opening draws against Switzerland and South Korea.

And the French lethal striker admitted that his team desperately needed to "step up their game" to defy their critics.

"It is true that we were not playing well at the start of the World Cup, and people were saying we were too old," the striker expressed. "That was pretty harsh, but as soon as we stepped it up it started to work for us."

A convincing win against Togo then set the pace for glorious performances against Spain, Brazil and Portugal.

"We were not listening to what people were saying," he finished.

"We were completely concentrated on playing as a team. That is what the team is all about. We never cared about our critics - we just got it done."

It's important to know that Henry paved the way for France's semi-final victory over Portugal by earning a 33rd-minute spot-kick after Ricardo Carvalho had brought him down in the box. Zinedine Zidane gently placed the penalty past the fast Ricardo to ignite ferocious attacks from the Portuguese.

"We defended like lions," Thierry Henry claims.

"It was not at all an easy win. It was very hard but we were very efficient."

France now take on Italy for what could be another classic meeting, and the Arsenal forward has predicted a tight battle.

"It will be a close game against Italy - nobody expected anything from them (before the tournament) either. We all saw what they did to the Germans and how they worried them. They are a really good squad. We just don't know what will happen in the final."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Henry is closer to heaven after French victory over Brazil

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France surprised everyone when they beat the superfavorite Brazil and qualified for the semifinals, eliminating the Southamerican team. It was one of the most brilliant nights of Zidane, and the goal was scored by... Who else? Thierry Henry.

Now it's amazing to remember that when the World Cup began, France were an ageing collection of has-beens, split by internal arguments and sentimentally accommodating the man formerly known as the greatest Zizou. And in just five games, everything changed.

In fact, they have steadily improved as the tournament has gone on, a progression that culminated with Thierry Henry scoring the winning goal. And this from a player who apparently goes missing in big matches.

But it's fair to say: this is a myth that needs to be dispelled. Along with Ronaldinho, Henry is the best player in the world. He does things that other players just can't. He is one of those different ones.

A converted winger, the French striker played as a lone frontman for much of last season at Highbury, and still managed 33 goals in 44 games, including strikes against Juventus and Real Madrid - which probably just about classify as big derbies.

What's more, he captained a young and inexperienced team to the Champions League final, and displayed a rarely seen loyalty by staying with Arsenal when brighter and more glamorous options were available.

We can say that Henry has arguably been one of the few stars that has done his job in this World Cup. With the confidence of his team growing around him, Henry could make short work of a Portugal defence that could barely contain England's meagre attack, even after Wayne Rooney's red card.