Franck Ribery once again proved to be France's saviour against Lithuania, steering the home side to a 1-0 win at the Stade de France. While les Bleus showed signs of improvement, the performance is unlikely to silence their critics.
Following their narrow 1-0 win over Lithuania at Kaunas on Saturday, les Bleus were looking to do better against the same opposition on home turf at the Stade de France, where they hadn’t won since a controversial friendly with Tunisia in October.
The build-up to the game had been marked by coach Raymond Domenech’s plea for fans to get behind the team. If some were still in doubt as to who of the players or the coach may be the target of fans’ jeers, those doubts were dispelled as soon as the teams stepped onto the pitch: the boos were all for the out-of-favour manager.
France and Lithuania were both hoping to end the day as second-placed in Group 7, behind leaders Serbia, who were five points clear of the French and 3 points ahead of Lithuania.
The Baltic side fielded the same 11 players who appeared in Saturday’s game. Their tactics were clear from the onset: a thick defensive line would seek to halt the onslaught of Ribery and co.
Yet, despite the home team’s offensive formation and the visitors’ best efforts to give the ball away all too cheaply, France’s forwards proved incapable of mounting a credible threat during a thoroughly boring first half. By half time, the crowd’s boos had been extended to both teams.
Les Bleus kicked off the second half with greater determination, but with precious little effect. With just over half an hour left to play, Lyon’s Karim Benzema and Toulouse striker Pierre-André Gignac came on for Bordeaux’s Yoann Gourcuff and Paris Saint-Germain’s Guy Luyindula.
Once again, the last 20 minutes of the game proved to be the money-makers for France.
After a series of fruitless attacks, a dazzling counter finally broke the home team’s duck. Benzema charged through the centre of the pitch before finding an unmarked Henry on the left. The Barcelona striker curled the ball to Gignac, who then served the oncoming Ribery for an easy tap-in.
With six points in five days, France have done the job – though without silencing their critics. Domenech’s men will be expected to add a further three points and improve their scoring record when they travel to the Faroe Islands for their next qualifier.
Date created : 2009-04-01