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France reassured

Latest update : 2008-03-27

France won at home 1 - 0 against England less than 70 days before Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. A small victory but enough to reassure French coach Raymond Domenech after losing to Spain in their last encounter 1 - 0.

David Beckham was granted his 100th cap, saw just over an hour of action and departed to a generous ovation from all sections of the Stade de France.
  
But France never looked like allowing the milestone to be marked by an England victory, and the ease of their 1-0 win was an unequivocal indication of the scale of the task faced by Fabio Capello as he seeks to elevate his new charges to the level of their neighbours.
  
Franck Ribery's first-half penalty separated the two sides but better finishing from Raymond Domenech's side could have made this an embarrassing rather than a merely uncomfortable evening for England's new head coach.
  
Unexpectedly named in the starting line-up, Beckham's contribution to the evening was marred by a yellow card for pulling the shirt of Florent Malouda, a foul that his critics will seize on as proof that he no longer has the legs for international football.
  
But he also provided enough evidence to suggest he could yet rise higher than fifth in the table of England's most-capped players, a couple of 50-yard crossfield passes in particular demonstrating that, as he nears his 33rd birthday, the delivery from his right boot remains as reliable as ever.
  
With illness having confined Frank Lampard to the team hotel, Owen Hargreaves joined Beckham in an England midfield in which, as in the win over Switzerland last month, Steven Gerrard was deployed in the slipstream of lone striker Wayne Rooney.
  
Beckham's first significant contribution was far from auspicious, the LA Galaxy midfielder clumsily conceding possession to Claude Makelele in the centre circle.
  
He made amends by sprinting back to reclaim the ball from Malouda and was soon offering a glimpse of what he can offer by curling in a dangerous cross that Rooney was close to meeting at the near post.
  
France looked more menacing however and David James was relieved to see Nicolas Anelka's header from a Ribery freekick skid past him on the outside of his post after ten minutes.
  
Anelka was presented with another opportunity minutes later after Malouda cut inside Wes Brown from the left flank, but a tame shot on the turn failed to trouble James.
  
At the other end, Gregory Coupet was forced to palm away Ashley Cole's low cross with Beckham sliding in at the back post before a neat exchange with Rooney put Gerrard into space on the edge of the area.
  
The Liverpool captain's shot flew high over the bar when a return pass to his team-mate might have served England's cause better.
  
Gerrard then headed Wes Brown's cross over the bar before France claimed the lead courtesy of right-back Francois Clerc's clever pass into the space between England's centrebacks and James.
  
Anelka's reactions were quicker than any of the England defenders and his pace over the ground was too great for James, whose late dive swept the striker's legs from under him.
  
German referee Florian Meyer spared James the red card that would have been automatic in a competitive fixture but there was no mercy from Ribery, who sent James the wrong way from the spot.
  
Four half-time substitutions saw England switch to a conventional 4-4-2 formation spearheaded by Peter Crouch and Michael Owen.
  
France continued to dominate however and, after Anelka had turned skipper Rio Ferdinand and fired narrowly over, Malouda came agonisingly close to doubling France's lead, his left-foot drive grazing the foot of James's left-hand post with the goalkeeper beaten.
  
Ribery could have doubled his personal tally with quarter of an hour left but dragged his shot wide after being teed up by Anelka on the edge of the area.
  
But with England failing to create a single clear chance in the second half, their hosts hardly needed the additional cushion Ribery or substitute Djibril Cisse, who fired into the side netting in the final minute, could have provided.

Date created : 2008-03-26

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