England get the blues after French lesson

LONDON, Nov 17, 2010 (AFP) - France cruised to a 2-1 victory over England here Wednesday as Les Bleus picked apart Fabio Capello's makeshift side with a clinical display of passing football.

Goals in each half from Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena sealed an emphatic victory for France as England crashed to the first home defeat of Capello's two-and-a-half-year reign.

England's goal came from Peter Crouch on 86 minutes, the Tottenham striker scoring with his first touch after replacing Steven Gerrard.

France's goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (2nd L) punches the ball during their international friendly football match against England at Wembley Stadium in London, on November 17, 2010. AFP

Injuries to first-choice players including Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Glen Johnson and Jermain Defoe had given Capello the opportunity to blood several new faces in his starting line-up.

But if Wednesday's performance at Wembley is anything to go by, England's fans have little reason to be optimistic about the future after Capello's side were outclassed for long periods by Laurent Blanc's revitalised French side.

The selection of Newcastle striker Andy Carroll had dominated the headlines in the build-up, but the 21-year-old with the chequered disciplinary record was barely involved before being substituted midway through the second half.

Sunderland's promising midfielder Jordan Henderson also struggled to find his feet throughout while Arsenal's young fullback Kieran Gibbs, deputising for Cole, was badly exposed for the second goal.

Capello struggled to put a brave face on the loss afterwards.

"France played very well in the first half, we played with a bit of fear and we missed lots of passes," Capello said.

"We played a lot of long balls to Carroll but that's not the style that we like to play. It was interesting to see these players against a strong team like France."

Capello's counterpart Blanc however could reflect on another solid display from France, rapidly rebuilding after their calamitous World Cup campaign which saw them bundled out in the first round.

"I think we won the midfield battle tonight. It's difficult for England to attack if they don't have the ball," Blanc said.

"And that's what really pleased me tonight -- we had a lot of the ball. And not only did we keep the ball we managed to get forward in good positions to do damage when we did have the ball."

France established their dominance within minutes of the kick-off, crisply moving the ball around on the rain-slicked Wembley surface as they dominated both possession and territory.

Chelsea midfielder Florent Malouda was the first to test England keeper Ben Foster on nine minutes, rifling in a firm low shot that the Birmingham stopper needed two attempts to gather.

Foster was pressed into action moments later when a slack clearance from Gibbs fell to Yoann Gourcuff, whose vicious 25-yard shot was parried wide.

If those two chances served as a warning for England it was one they did not heed and on 16 minutes France duly took the lead.

The livewire Benzema surged towards the England area, played an exquisite one-two with Malouda which took him clear of Phil Jagielka, before blasting past Foster at the near post.

At the other end, England produced plenty of endeavour but barely threatened the French goal.

Carroll won all the aerial battles that came his way but the debutant was only fleetingly involved throughout the first half as England repeatedly squandered possession.

The game was effectively sealed as a contest 10 minutes into the second half. Arsenal fullback Bacary Sagna galloped clear down the right after Gibbs was caught out of position and crossed into the box for the late-arriving Valbuena to skilfully steer past Foster.

Crouch took his phenomenal goalscoring record for England to 22 in 42 appearances when he sidefooted in Ashley Young's cross to raise hopes of a fightback.

But although England rallied hard for what would have been a barely deserved draw, France held firm to claim their win.

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