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Thursday, August 19, 1999 Published at 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK

Sport: Football

Belfast blues as France scrape home

Peter Kennedy: Missed decent chance just before France scored

Northern Ireland v France

World Champions France cruised to a leisurely 1-0 warm-up win over Northern Ireland.

But while the Irish could be proud of their battling display against the world champions, the same could not be said of their fans' contribution.

Only 11,804 supporters bothered to turn out, which was nearly 3,000 less than the ground's capacity.

The Irish Football Association will have been dismayed by the empty seats as they are incurring substantial losses to bring France to Belfast and a capacity crowd would have reduced their deficit.

Ulster-born Sports Minister Kate Hoey was also there, decked out in a Northern Ireland scarf, to lend her support.

[ image: Iain Dowie tackles Lilian Thuram]
Iain Dowie tackles Lilian Thuram
But all this was not enough to catch the imagination of the Ulster football public - apparently more interested in a Simply Red concert down the road.

If the Northern Irish crowd were apathetic, so were the French. But the World Champions perhaps had a better excuse.

The French were without seven of their World Cup winning squad but still managed to win although they rarely raised their game above a casual jog.

The game was supposed to provide the champions with tough match practice ahead of their game against Group Four leaders Ukraine on September 4.

Missing stars

But without Zinedine Zidane, Youri Djorkaeff, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Christian Karembeu and Didier Deschamps the gap with Northern Ireland, 67 places behind in the FIFA rankings, was narrowed.

A drab game came to life just before half time when Jon McCarthy dispossessed Bixente Lizarazu and fired a shot against the goalpost.

French goalkeepe Fabien Barthez, having one of his more eccentric nights, gifted a chance to the home team in the 66th minute with a poor clearance to Peter Kennedy but, with the 'keeper scrambling back to his goal, the Northern Ireland midfielder lobbed onto the top of the net.

The Watford player's miss was to prove decisive.

Flank attack

It spurred the relaxed French into action. A minute later Thuram charged down the flank before feeding substitute Laslandes, who wriggled past a defender and prodded the ball inside the post.

McCarthy had a chance to level on his 29th birthday when the ball dropped to him and he fired too high with at least two colleagues in better positions to score.

McMenemy also tried to pep up his attack and 10 minutes into a lacklustre second half he replaced Iain Dowie with West Brom forward James Quinn, who Lawrie McMenemy has challenged to become the side's new goal-getter.

Northern Ireland will be heartened by the slim scoreline but the lack of clear opportunities against such a weakened side does not bode well for their chances against Turkey and Germany in the Euro 2000 qualifiers in September.


Northern Ireland: Taylor, A. Hughes, Williams, Hunter, Horlock, McCarthy, Lennon, Lomas, Kennedy, Dowie, M. Hughes. Subs: Wright, Nolan, Jenkins, Morrow, Whitley, Gillespie, Quinn, Rowland.

France:Barthez, Thuram, Blanc, Desailly, Lizarazu, Boghossian, Vieira, Micoud, Pires, Laslandes, Wiltord. Subs: Rame, Candela, Leboeuf, Dehu, Robert, Vairelles, Deschamps.
Referee: Willie Young (Scotland)

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