LENS (France): france coach Jacques Santini praised striker Thierry Henry's brilliant performance as he inspired the European champions to a 6-0 victory over Malta in their Euro 2004 qualifying match on Saturday.
“I knew before the game that Thierry was in a great form. He is playing at his best and he is well above the level of all the others guys at the moment,” a beaming Santini told reporters.
“It was the reason why I had decided to have him from the start. I had the idea to partner him with David Trezeguet and it paid off.”
Henry scored twice, one before the interval and another early in the second half, and set up his former Monaco team mate with a fine pass to put the Group One game beyond doubt in the 70th minute after Sylvain Wiltord had opened the scoring.
Arsenal striker Henry looked in a class of his own throughout the game and put the brave Maltese defence in trouble thanks to his pace down the left wing.
“I was not concerned about my strikers,” said Santini. “In this particular area of the pitch I can rely on several highly gifted guys who stayed on the bench tonight.
“After the first half I was a little bit worried about David (Trezeguet) because he missed two clear chances to score. I was afraid he could get angry with himself. But eventually he found his way to the net, once again thanks to Thierry.”
A smiling Henry said he felt pretty well physically during the game. “I had great legs tonight and when I'm feeling this way I can be quite a great help for my team mates,” he said.
“I always tried to carry the ball up front, to provide the others with chances to score goals. I took a lot of pleasure playing from the first minute.”
When he left the pitch to be replaced by Monaco's Jerome Rothen with 10 minutes to go, Henry received a standing ovation from the Lens's public who chanted his name.
“Henry was great tonight but we must not overlook Zinedine Zidane who had a great game too. He scored two goals,” Santini said. “And he confirmed he was up to his responsibilities as a captain.”
In the absence of off-form defender Marcel Desailly, the Real Madrid midfielder was handed the captain's armband.
Zidane had been blamed for a poor performance in the 2-0 defeat to Czech Republic in Paris last month but he looked totally focused and dedicated to his job on Saturday.
“We knew the Maltese were going to stay back and defend. We knew that we had to remain patient and not get nervous if it took some time to score the first goal,” Zidane said.