Wednesday 03 May 2017, 08:49

The decisive goal: Vieira heads France to victory

  • Vieira scored the winner against Japan in the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2001

  • Latching on to a long ball, the midfielder nodded into an empty net

  • France became only the second nation to win the FIFA World Cup™ and the Confederations Cup back to back

The stakesThere was no stopping France at the start of the new millennium. Victorious on home soil at the FIFA World Cup™ in 1998, Les Bleus then won UEFA EURO 2000 and were brimming with confidence ahead of the FIFA Confederations Cup Korea/Japan 2001.

The group phase of the competition proved to be tougher than expected, however, with the French losing 1-0 to Australia and only qualifying for the semi-finals on goal difference, thanks to respective 5-0 and 4-0 defeats of Korea Republic and Mexico. In a repeat of the 1998 World Cup Final, Roger Lemerre’s men then defeated Brazil 2-1 to set up a final with Japan.

Coached by the Frenchman Philippe Troussier, the Japanese made sure of top spot in their group with a goalless draw against A Seleçao, having earlier beaten Canada 3-0 and Cameroon 2-0. Held to another 0-0 draw by the Canucks, the Brazilians had to settle for second place. Hidetoshi Nakata then scored the only goal, as Japan beat Australia to advance to the final, all without having conceded in their four games.

Not surprisingly, the reigning world and Europeans champions found the Japanese a hard side to break down in the final, played before a crowd of 65,533 at the International Stadium Yokohama. The French did not help themselves either, proving wasteful in front of goal.

The decisive goalVieira’s winner came as something of a surprise, given that he had arrived at the tournament without having scored in 39 appearances for his country. The Arsenal midfielder set that record straight by finding the back of the net in his side’s big win over the South Koreans in the group phase.

Frank Leboeuf provided the assist for his winner in the final, firing a long ball towards the Japanese penalty box. Advancing from his line in a bid to claim it, Japan goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi was beaten to the punch by Vieira, who nodded the ball over him and into the unguarded net.

The victorious French became the second side after Brazil to win the Confederations Cup as reigning world champions, a feat that only the Brazilians have achieved since.

The goalscorerThe Senegalese-born midfielder was not known for his finishing abilities prior to his trip to Asia. A formidable athlete, Vieira won more than 100 caps for France. A giant of the midfield thanks to his huge work rate, impressive technical skills and superb vision, he was an unsurprising inclusion in the FIFA 100 list in 2004.

A cornerstone of Arsenal’s feted 'Invincibles' – the side that went unbeaten in winning the 2003/04 English Premier League title – he won three English league titles in all with the Gunners, a feat he then repeated with Internazionale in Italy's Serie A between 2007 and 2009.

He is now the coach of Major League Soccer side New York City FC, having taken on the job in January 2016.

They said“My confidence is really high at the moment. The spirit among the players has been fantastic all through the tournament.” Patrick Vieira

“It wasn’t easy at all. We knew the final was going to be tough because Japan are a very good side. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the only reason we won was Patrick Vieira’s header.” France midfielder Robert Pires

“We know FIFA made us No.1 in the world, so we have to prove that we are worthy of that title.” France defender Frank Leboeuf

“The important thing in a final is to win and we did. We have completed a historic hat-trick. Vieira and Robert Pires were the two outstanding players in this tournament and players like them are the backbone of our team. Who knows, maybe in a year's time in this same superb stadium, there may be another final between France and Japan.” France coach Roger Lemerre

In the build-up to the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017, will be taking a fortnightly trip down memory lane to remember a decisive strike to have lit up the competition.

Recap: The decisive goal: Rasmussen on the break

Next up: Henry spearheads French defence