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France give England Les Bleus

England 1-2 France, Wembley Stadium, 17/11/10

A sell-out Wembley crowd had eagerly forked out a fortune to witness a much anticipated duel between two of world football’s heavyweights last night, but rather like the WBA bout at the weekend, one left in shame while the other more than earned their result.

Under strength albeit, England were disgraced at the hands of a fully transformed France, well and truly on the road to renewal with the hosts travelling in the opposite direction. Goals from Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena eased off a poor England side who undeservedly had a late Peter Crouch strike to show for their effort, if there was any whatsoever. The consolation volley from the substitute took the gloss off of a supremely polished French performance.

Capello has much to ponder, including his own future

 Fabio Capello awarded full debuts to Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson and Newcastle’s Andy Carroll in an under strength team, ravaged by injuries. But with the experience in Florent Malouda and Samir Nasri, France dominated for long periods, keeping hold of possession throughout, continuously frustrating England. The pressure soon gave way in the 16th minute as Benzema played a neat one-two with Malouda on the edge of the area before hammering the ball into Ben Foster’s net at the near post. The experienced captain, Rio Ferdinand, showing his age and diminishing pace attempted to make a challenge but failed with both tracking the run and blocking the shot, unsuccessfully stamping his authority on the game whatsoever until his substitution at half time.

Foster will be cursing himself for conceding a goal at his near post, one that all keepers hate, but redeemed himself somewhat with saves from Malouda and Yoann Gourcuff from distance. France could have put the game well beyond England before half-time but the chilly November friendly was an occasion that no one, not even a resurgent French side, could be bothered to put any effort into.

Mamadou Sakho was brought on at half time in place of Philippe Mexes who had been given a rough time by Carroll during the first period, winning the few headers he contested for against the more experienced opposition. Les Bleus coach, Laurent Blanc obviously sensed his chance at giving one of his fringe players a run out. England too, rang the changes as Barry, Walcott and Ferdinand were replaced by Young, Adam Johnson and Richards respectively following a poor half from all 3 to depart.

Soccer - International Friendly - England v France - Wembley Stadium

Carroll – Looked bright if not 100% fit

And the game followed in the same vein after the interval, as Valbuena swept home a tasty cross from Bacary Sagna to make it 2-0 in the 55th minute, catching Kieran Gibbs out of position to play a controlled ball into the area. The Marseille midfielder tucked the ball superbly away for his 2nd goal in the blue garments of his national side.

Little else happened for anyone to raise an eyebrow at; Gerrard clipped the top of the bar with a header and Nasri could have compounded England’s misery even more but his fierce shot smashed a post. Substitutes rained down stronger than the London drizzle which summed up the evening for the fans and players. Lousy. At least Capello had a chance to see one or two fringe players like Peter Crouch or Stephen Warnock, or even Cardiff striker Jay Bothroyd who did little to prove how he is international quality.

The match ended in regret as vice-captain, Steven Gerrard, injured a hamstring, which will keep him out for a month. Although Crouch stole in to volley and make the scoreline 2-1, it had been a difficult night for all in England’s new white kit. All in all, little had been gained from the friendly which was practically a night out for the bigwigs at the FA as they still yearn to pay off the huge debt the nights venue has cast upon them.

But for France, beating a world power (although under strength and progressing in the wrong direction) signals Laurent Blanc’s fine effort as his side keep working to diminish the nightmare performance at the World Cup that left the team’s reputation as churned up as the Wembley pitch used to be. There we go, at least we can end on a positive note after a night of negatives from the England bench.

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