The mystery of France's muffled mastiffs

26th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 25, 2006 (AFP) - Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet - two names to strike fear into any defender squaring up against France's elite attacking duo in Germany this summer.

PARIS, May 25, 2006 (AFP) - Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet - two names to strike fear into any defender squaring up against France's elite attacking duo in Germany this summer.

Or are they?

For while both inspirational forwards rack up goals week in week out for their respective clubs in the Premiership and Serie A they have become positively goal shy when donning the national shirt.

Raymond Domenech, the France coach, must feel at times that he's going into battle with muzzles around his two prize mastiffs.

The statistics are compelling.

Henry has been in the form of his life this season for Arsenal, his 30-plus goal haul in all competitions earning him the accolade as the Gunners' all-time top scorer and setting him up for the Premiership's golden boot award.

Over in Turin Trezeguet's been enjoying himself too - his 23 goals lifting him into second in the leading scorer's table, his tally representing nearly a third of champions' Juventus' total of 71 goals.

But while fans at Highbury and the Delle Alpi stadium are used to feasting on the fruits of the pair's endeavours they've had to leave international fixtures relatively starved.

Since 2004 Henry has come up with six goals from 83 shots while Trezeguet's record stands at three goals from 30 attempts.

And alarmingly no French forward has scored at a World Cup since the group stages of their annus mirabilis, 1998 - midfield maestro Zinedine Zidane and fellow midfielder Emmanuel Petit producing the three goals that did it for Brazil in the final at the Stade de France.

The pair's inability to replicate their outstanding club form for their country left the 1998 world champions struggling badly to qualify for the 2006 finals.

In a group which on paper they looked to have well within their grasp they had to rely on Zidane's return from retirement to help steady the ship with three qualifiers remaining.

Nervy France eventually scraped through as Group 4 winners, but only by two points after failing to score in their first three qualifiers.

Despite their glittering array of striking talent of Henry, Trezeguet, Nicolas Anelka and Djibril Cisse their final tally on the road to Germany was a meagre 10 goals in 14 matches - four less than the Swiss.

L'Equipe, France's sporting bible, has devoted column inches to the schizophrenic nature of the duo's form for club and country.

"Henry's fantastic for the Gunners, but a lot less so or almost not at all for Les Bleus," the paper mused recently.

"How can he be exceptional when playing on a Saturday, off-colour when playing (for France) midweek, and return to his best the following Saturday?" it asked.

Henry, when pressed on the matter, shrugged: "There's no obvious answer".

His Arsenal teammate, Dennis Bergkamp, put up the following theory.

"With Arsenal Thierry evolves in a system where everyone knows what he's got to do.

"Obviously France plays less instinctively - without that cohesiveness all you're left with is the player's ability.

"On top of that a striker always depends on the service he gets - Thierry's never more dangerous than when we give him the ball on the first touch.

"That's when he finds space - to line up a second striker with an attacking midfielder is a mistake."

Another Arsenal colleague, Robert Pires, who has not starred for France since a fallout with Domenech in 2004, had his own thoughts.

"A striker is reliant on the output from the rest of the team.

"At Euro 2004 (where France fell in the quarter-finals) we tried to find our balance without success.

"The way the ball was moved around wasn't fluid - and 'Titi's never stronger than when he's being served the ball quick and low."

Henry's goal against Ireland in Dublin lifted him to third equal top scorer for France alongside Just Fontaine and Jean-Pierre Papin.

And the latter had a mischievous piece of advice for Domenech.

"To solve the problem all you have to do is put all the Arsenal players in the France team."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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