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Henry inspires France to 4-0 win over Malta

© Reuters 2002

By Pierre Serisier
VALLETTA, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Striker Thierry Henry fired two first-half goals to inspire defending champions France to a 4-0 victory over Malta on Wednesday that maintains their 100 percent record in the Euro 2004 qualifiers.

The French, who have scored 11 goals in three matches and conceded only one, lead Group One with a maximum nine points. Malta are bottom after three defeats in a group also featuring Slovenia, Israel and Cyprus.

Henry, who did not score in the 5-0 thrashing of Slovenia at the Stade de France on Saturday, volleyed home a cross from Arsenal team mate Sylvain Wiltord to put France ahead in the 25th minute.

He headed home France's second 11 minutes later after defender Mickael Silvestre sent over a fine cross from the left and Wiltord put the issue beyond doubt just before the hour.

Substitute Eric Carriere, who came on for Henry, completed the rout six minutes from time after an unchallenged run through the Malta defence.

The French carried out almost to perfection the mission set by coach Jacques Santini of taking nine points from their first three qualifiers when he replaced the sacked Roger Lemerre in July after France's World Cup debacle.

"Tonight the players behaved like great professionals as we had the duty to snatch three points to add to the six already under our belts," Santini said.

"We had to stay focused after last week's match and that's what we did. We confronted a team that was not afraid to play its own game and we must have great respect for the Maltese.

"Until the second goal, we were a bit worried as Malta put pressure on us on several occasions."

France had always found it hard to cope with small defensive teams and the difficulty they had to beat Cyprus 2-1 in their opening qualifier in Nicosia last month proved this.

Four years ago, the French had had to wait for a 85th-minute goal by defender Frank Leboeuf from the penalty spot to snatch a 1-0 success over Andorra at home in a Euro 2000 qualifier.

And in the opening minutes in the tiny and rustic stadium of Ta'Qali outside Valletta, the French looked everything but at ease against a Maltese side with nothing to lose.

But once Henry had broken the deadlock, Malta, the weakest team in the group, struggled to fight back through strikers Chucks Nwoko and Michael Mifsud.

The French central defensive partnership of Marcel Desailly and William Gallas stood firm.

On the half hour, Zinedine Zidane hit the woodwork and six minutes later Henry headed home France's second with the Maltese looking physically and technically overwhelmed.

"One thing I regret from this game is that Zidane did not score. It would have helped us to feel more comfortable earlier in the match," Santini said.

"It's difficult to compare our performance tonight with the one in Cyprus as we are in better physical and mental shape than we were a month ago."

Henry came very close to a hat-trick when he headed a cross from Steve Marlet onto the crossbar just before Wiltord scored the third in the 59th.

Malta goalkeeper Mario Muscat produced several great saves, including one to deflect a close-range header from Marlet with 13 minutes to go.

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