COIMBRA: Thierry Henry finally found his magic touch at Euro 2004 by scoring twice in France's 3-1 win over Switzerland here yesterday to earn the defending champions a quarter-final date with Greece.
Jacques Santini's side were pushed hard by the Swiss before setting up a date with surprise package Greece in Lisbon on Friday by finishing top of Group B with seven points. England, who finished second after beating Croatia 4-2, will play Portugal on Thursday.
Henry said: “We have been criticised, sometimes with justification. But the most important thing is to finish first in the group.
“I have great respect for Greece but it's nevertheless better to avoid Portugal.”
Coach Jacques Santini said France had to work hard to beat Switzerland.
“It's not a relief but we had to go and look for this victory. These three matches weren't easy,” said Santini.
Zinedine Zidane had given France a deserved lead in the 20th minute, the French skipper notching up his third goal of the championships when heading in Robert Pires' corner from the right.
France then won a clutch of corners but somehow the Swiss defence held firm and six minutes later they were back in business with an equaliser from 18-year-old Johan Vonlanthen, who became the youngest ever scorer in a European championships.
Ricardo Cabanas pounced on an error by French defender Mikael Silvestre and then threaded the ball through to Vonlanthen whose angled shot nestled in the left hand corner of Fabien Barthez's net.
Vonlanthen had been introduced to replace the out-of-form Stephane Chapuisat while teammate Alexander Frei, embroiled in a spitting incident, was another absentee.
The Swiss, who had suddenly found some punch, had an early scoring opportunity when Lilian Thuram was caught up for handball but Hakan Yakin's freekick was tipped over the crossbar by Barthez at full stretch.
Henry, who has enjoyed an indifferent Euro up to now, was booked for diving after a tackle by Murat Yakin at the start of the second half.
Santini, who had started regular captain Marcel Desailly on the bench, made one change in the interval, bringing on William Gallas for Willy Sagnol as he attempted to shore up his backline.
Pires went close to putting France back in front on the hour when he was set up by Bixente Lizarazu but his shot from 18m went high.
Then in the 76th minute Henry finally got the goal he's been aching for, the Arsenal attacker tapping in after being fed by a knock-on from Louis Saha's head just seconds after the Manchester United player had come on for David Trezeguet.
Zidane almost added a third when Pires crossed from the right but his header was safely gathered by Jorg Stiel in the Swiss goal.
But it was to fall to Henry to put the match beyond doubt as the Premiership's top scorer last season stormed in from the left, scattering the Swiss defence in his wake, to shoot right-footed past Stiel.
Henry's double took his tally to 27 in 61 games, ending a goal drought for the striker who had not scored in his last five games for Les Bleus.
It was a memorable night for Henry – and despite Switzerland's elimination from Group B, they have the consolation that Vonlanthen, at 18 years four months and 20 days, takes over the distinction as the championships' youngest ever scorer by three months and four days from England's Wayne Rooney.
Rooney owned the record for all of four days after scoring against Switzerland at Coimbra last Thursday. – Agencies