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   June 11, 2002 | 1545 IST


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French pain is Danes gain

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French soccer fans let out a collective howl of anguish and hung their heads in despair on Tuesday as the defending champions crashed out of the World Cup after just three games.

Thousands of fans stood in wretched misery in front of a vast screen in central Paris as their national heroes lost 2-0 to Denmark -- a humiliating fall from grace for the country that had revelled in its 1998 victory.

"It's a nightmare. World champions and this is all we could manage," said 16-year-old Eddy Remy, who had sneaked off school to watch the match dressed in a France strip.

The agony of defeat in Paris was matched by the joy of victory in the Danish capital Copenhagen.

Cheering Danes poured out of pubs into the town square while singing the rock group Queen's "We are the Champions".

"It's fantastic. We beat the world and European champions," said John Soegaard, a 29-year-old railway serviceman who had taken the day off to watch the game from a pub in central Copenhagen.

"Now give us England in the next match," he said ahead of what he promised would be an all-day celebration with friends.

Even before the Denmark game, France dished up a dismal World Cup campaign, with a shock 1-0 defeat to Senegal and a disappointing goal-less draw against Uruguay that left them languishing at the bottom of their group.

"It's shameful. We are the champions of the world and we couldn't even manage a goal," said Raphael Bordes, 16, another student taking a break from his studies in central Paris.

With the prospect of an early exit looming heavy, many French fans had arranged to arrive late at work to watch the crucial match, praying the return of star playmaker Zinedine Zidane from injury could yet save the team and national pride.

"Zizou, Zizou," the crowd had chanted to encourage the hero of France's 1998 Cup final victory against Brazil.

Pleading for goals, fans groaned at every missed French opportunity and shrieked in horror when Denmark striker Dennis Rommedahl scored a goal in the first half, and again when an unmarked Jon Dahl Tomasson clinched the second in the 67th minute.

"This wasn't a team that wanted to win," a fan muttered under his breath just before the final whistle went.

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