| Thierry Henry tries to evade an Ivan Cordoba challenge in France’s Confederations Cup opener against Colombia in LyonWednesday. (Reuters)
Lyon: France started their Confederations Cup defence on Wednesday after a Thierry Henry penalty earned them a 1-0 victory over Colombia.
Henry’s 39th-minute spot-kick in a lively display from the Arsenal striker left France second in group A on goal difference after Japan had brushed aside New Zealand 3-0 in the tournament opener in Paris on Wednesday.
In Thursday’s first match striker Tuncay Sanli celebrated his debut for Turkey by scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory over the United States. DaMarcus Beasley headed the US into a 37th-minute lead, but Okan Yilmaz levelled from the penalty spot three minutes later.
The European champions, though clearly missing the creative spark of Zinedine Zidane, had the edge on the 2001 Copa America winners at the Stade Gerland but did have to survive a late onslaught when Colombia were camped in their box and hit the bar. Earlier, Henry and strike partner Djibril Cisse missed good chances, while Olivier Dacourt hit the post in a workmanlike win.
France coach Jacques Santini, without midfielders Zidane, Claude Makelele and Patrick Vieira through club duties and injury, rested first-choice keeper Fabien Barthez for the opener in a series of re-shuffles.
Olympique Lyon’s Gregory Coupet replaced Barthez in front of his home fans, while Olivier Kapo played unimpressively on the left wing for an hour before being replaced by usual first-choice Robert Pires.
France were predictably slow to find their usual rhythm before creating three chances in the space of five minutes midway through the first half — all of them headers.
The breakthrough came when Wiltord’s cross from the right was blocked by the hand of Ruben Dario Velasquez and Henry crashed home the spot-kick — his 19th goal in 47 appearances for France.
On Friday they play Japan at St Etienne in a repeat of the 2001 final which France won.
Santini blames fitness
Coach Santini later said France’s laboured 1-0 win was down to the physical demands made on his team. “It’s a great source of satisfaction because Colombia were just as we expected — well-organised and with a lot of good players,” Santini told a news conference.
“We knew that physically we would be more tired than usual at the end of the game and that we would have to show real team spirit. That’s an extra reason for congratulating the side.
Colombian coach Francisco Maturana said: “I’m very pleased with the team, they did their best against a side as good as France, playing at home.
Japan had an easy evening against New Zealand at the Stade de France in Paris with all three goals coming from their Italy-based midfield duo (briefly reported in Thursday’s Late City edition).
Reggina’s Shunsuke Nakamura scored twice and captain Hidetoshi Nakata of Parma slotted his side’s second goal in the 65th in a match the Japanese dominated from the start.
New Zealand are still without a win in the eight-nation tournament having lost all three games in their previous appearance in 1999. “We could have scored one or maybe two more goals in the dying minutes of the game but I’m happy with the performance of my players tonight,” said Japanese coach Zico.