French hopes still alive after draw in Serbia

France’s hopes of qualification for the World Cup are still alive after a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Serbia, despite being reduced to ten men early in the game. Serbia have now moved to within three points of qualification.


AFP - Serbia moved to within three points of the World Cup on Wednesday with a 1-1 draw at home to France, whose hopes of automatic qualification remain alive after a brave 10-man showing.


Captain Thierry Henry's 50th international goal earned Raymond Domenech's side a point that looked unlikely when Nenad Milijas put the home side ahead from the penalty spot after France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had been sent off for a ninth-minute foul on Nikola Zigic.


"I'm proud of everything about the match," said France coach Domenech.


"I'm happy for the people who believed in us and supported us. I still believe and it's not over. I will congratulate my players."


Serbia were made to play on the counter-attack by France's game efforts to take the lead but Radomir Antic's men could have taken all three points.


Branislav Ivanovic saw a thunderous 30-yard strike touched onto the crossbar by substitute goalkeeper Steve Mandanda 10 minutes into the second period, while Zigic bent a first-time shot just wide with 25 minutes to play.


France, though, were a constant presence in the attacking third despite their numerical disadvantage. Nicolas Anelka was a willing runner in attack, Lassana Diarra and Jeremy Toulalan tireless presences in midfield.


An open second half made for plenty of space in both halves, with Anelka, Henry and Yoann Gourcuff failing to find the target with ambitious efforts and Zdravko Kuzmanvic firing wide for the hosts.


The late dismissal of Danko Lazovic gave France hope of a breakthrough but their increasingly desperate efforts were repelled, meaning the play-offs now beckon for the 1998 world champions.


With two matches of the qualifying campaign to come, Serbia lead Group Nine by four points from France and require three points from October games against Romania and Lithuania to seal their place in South Africa.


"Conceding so early and being down to 10 men so early was really hard," said Gourcuff. "We'd started well and it really hurt us. But we didn't lose it. We showed that we have a fantastic spirit."


Jeered onto the pitch, their anthem booed by large portions of the 55,000 sell-out crowd at the Marakana, France were a man and a goal down before the game had had time to settle. 


Lloris looked nervous from the off, slicing a succession of early clearances, and after saving a long-range effort from Gojko Kacar the Lyon man found himself at the centre of the incident that led to Serbia's goal.


Patrice Evra and William Gallas should have coped with a high ball that was allowed to bounce, but when they didn't Zigic was given a free run on goal and, after skirting the sprawling Lloris, he plunged to the ground.


Contact looked minimal but referee Roberto Rosetti pointed to the spot immediately and showed Lloris the red card.


Marseille goalkeeper Mandanda took to the field in place of the unfortunate Andre-Pierre Gignac but stood no chance as Milijas converted a nerveless penalty on the ground of his former club Red Star Belgrade.


Serbia's goal calmed the crowd and there were perilous moments in the French defence as the hosts sought to press home their advantage, but France kept them at bay before drawing level with surprising directness.


Evra's lofted pass down the left flank was magnificently brought down by Anelka, who turned and struck a low shot that Vladimir Stojkovic spilled. Henry darted in to stab home.


France took heart from their response, with Anelka driving over the crossbar from distance before Gourcuff drew a finger-tip save from Stojkovic with a 45-yard free-kick that was dipping beneath the crossbar.

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