France knock Luxembourg out of Euro 2012
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Group leader France beat Luxembourg 0-2 in Friday's Euro 2012 qualifier, a game that saw no outstanding French performance against its tiny neighbour. Philippe Mexes and Yoann Gourcuff scored the two goals.
AP - Philippe Mexes and Yoann Gourcuff scored a goal in each half on Friday as France beat Luxembourg 2-0 to extend its lead atop its group in European Championship qualifying.
The French took another step toward leaving the World Cup fiasco behind them as the match marked the first time Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery and Manchester United defender Patrice Evra wore the national jersey since the squad exited in the first round in South Africa last year.
Both Ribery and Evra started the game.
France leads the Group D standings with four wins after recovering from a defeat at home to Belarus, which is now four points behind.
Belarus plays at Albania on Saturday while Bosnia hosts Romania in the group's other games.
Blanc knows what to expect from a Luxembourg team with one draw and three losses so far. France sits top of Group D with three wins after recovering from its surprise opening defeat at home to Belarus, which is only one point behind.
"Our rivals are picking up points, it would be good for France to pick up six points against (Luxembourg),'' Blanc said. France eked out a scrappy 2-0 win against Luxembourg in October, with goals from Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and Yoann Gourcuff. Benzema should lead the attack again on Friday, although Ribery's return could mean Gourcuff drops out.
Blanc knows an early goal will be vital to open the game up. "With all due to respect to this Luxembourg team, which I like, we knowwhat to expect. It's up to us to be ready and to do what we plan to do,'' Blanc said. "(Luxembourg plays with) one up front and practically nine at the back 10 including the goalkeeper.''
Even though France is improving under Blanc, also beating Brazil and England in friendlies, he is treating Luxembourg with caution. He went to see Luxembourg play again after their first encounter, to see if there was anything new that could threaten his team.
"I saw them play two further times, at home and away they have the same style of play, the same tactical approach,'' Blanc said. "As long as they are still in the game, then they defend with a lot of energy.''
Reactions have been divided over the return of Evra and Ribery, with some French politicians saying they should never play again for France. Evra was France's captain at the World Cup and led the team in a training strike that shocked a nation and led to him receiving a five-game ban.
Ribery, for his perceived role as one of the ringleaders, got a three-match suspension. "I wouldn't say they are anguished,'' Blanc said. "It's (a) very peculiar (situation) for them ... but they also have to concentrate on the game.''
Although both bans have since expired, Blanc has not forgotten what happened in South Africa. He made it clear this week that both players are on trial to prove they can settle into his new-look squad without causing problems.
"Of course we see them playing every weekend. We know the players. Where I know them much less is on a human level,'' Blanc said. "(This) will be very important in the exchanges we will have, and also in terms of the behavior they will have within the group that we are building.''
Midfielder Samir Nasri is becoming fed up with the incessant talk of their return. "I want to help them, but I think it's being spoken about a bit too much,'' Nasri said Thursday. "They are two players who have enormous qualities, and who will bring us a lot.''
Evra is set to start at left back ahead of Arsenal's Gael Clichy. Eric Abidal, Blanc's first-choice left back, is recovering after an operation to remove a tumor on his liver.
"The cards are re-dealt. It's up to the players called up in that position to take that number one slot,'' Blanc said. "How you play for your club is important, and (also) in matches for France. But I will add something else ... there will also be an analysis done in terms of attitude.'' Blanc must decide where to play Bayern Munich winger Ribery and that could come at the expense of Gourcuff - Lyon's playmaker - who has been woefully out of form for most of the season.
Blanc may put Ribery in a more central role behind Benzema, and keep Chelsea's Florent Malouda on the left wing. Benzema, meanwhile, will be looking to continue his rich vein of form. He has scored in his last three games for France and has eight goals in his last five for Madrid.