France continued their preparations for Euro 2008 with a victory over England in Paris. A game of few chances was settled by a penalty from Franck Ribery.
With Beckham making his 100th appearance in an England shirt and Rio Ferdinand given the captains armband, it was the away side who had the lions share of the play in the opening half hour. Full backs Wes Brown and Ashley Cole were getting forward well and delivering telling balls into the area. An Ashley Cole cross led to a mix up in the French defence but Beckham was unable to capitalise.
Ribery was looking a constant threat and making some strong runs from midfield. It was the Bayern Munich man who would give France the opening goal just after the half hour. A great piece of skill from Francois Clerc on the French right saw him beat Joe Cole, he then fed a dangerous through ball which evaded John Terry and fed Anelka, James sprinted off his line but could do nothing than bring Anelka down. Penalty to France which Ribery slotted into the bottom right hand corner.
The goal came slightly against the run of play and was a little harsh on England who kept plugging away and Rooney saw a header from a Barry cross saved by Coupet in the French goal.
In the second half England changed a host of players with Owen and Crouch brought on in a more conventional 4-4-2 formation. Apart from an impressive second half display from Middlesbrough’s Stewart Downing, it was the French who began to come into the ascendancy. Despite England seemingly having two holding players in Barry and Hargreaves France were able to get forward on numerous occasions with good chances going just wide from Malouda, Ribery and substitute Djibrill Cisse. They were passing the ball and holding onto it effectively with Makelele rolling back the years with a fine performance in midfield.
Beckham was replaced by David Bentley on 63 minutes in what was a largely ineffective display on his part. Too often he held back letting the full backs go past him to deliver the crosses we have known to come and love from him. A gritty defensive display from France was enough to keep out England’s attack, enabling them very few chances.
England are very much a ‘work in progress’, but France look a strong bet for this summers European Championships. Without Thierry Henry, Anelka came into his own with a wonderful display. He was effective on the front line and also holding back allowing Ribery and Malouda to get forward well. France looked solid from back to front and it will be hard for teams to break them down. And with the likes of Trezeguet, Henry, Flamini and Evra to come in, who would bet against France reclaiming the title they last won in 2000.