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  • November 17, 2010
  • • 20:00
  • • Wembley Stadium, London
  • Referee: C. Larsen
  • • Attendance: 85495

England 1-2 France: Three Debutants But Same Old Story As Benzema & Valbuena Punish Capello's Side

England 1-2 France: Three Debutants But Same Old Story As Benzema & Valbuena Punish Capello's Side

A poor and disjointed England side fell to a 2-1 defeat by a slick passing performance from a France squad trying to redeem themselves after their own World Cup disappointment.

Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena put the French deservedly 2-0 to the good after 55 minutes before a late consolation from Peter Crouch gave the home fans hope of a late fightback, that inevitably never came.

France settled quicker than the home side, testing Ben Foster in the England goal after eight minutes when Florent Malouda flew down the left flank and, with plenty of space around him, sent in a weak shot that Foster initially fumbled but managed to collect.

Malouda was at it again minutes later when he skipped past Rio Ferdinand, only to spoon his shot high and wide but moments later a powerful long-range effort from Yoann Gourcuff forced Foster into an awkward save low to his left hand side, with Valbuena sending the ensuing corner over the bar with his head.

The French were coming closer and closer and it was only a matter of time before they went ahead. Malouda and Karim Benzema exchanged a neat one-two to allow the latter to dart into the England penalty and the 22-year-old slammed a low shot inside Foster’s near post to give his side a deserved lead.

England were looking decidedly amateurish, unsurprising considering the new-look starting XI, by giving away possession far too cheaply and resorting to the 'Peter Crouch effect' of lofting the ball 50 yards in the direction of the 6ft 3in debutant Andy Carroll with little to no positive results.

Given the home side’s lack of any new tactical approach, France decided to give the move that led to the opening goal another go, this time Benezma and Samir Nasri, who in particular had a remarkably good game, combining but Ferdinand managed to get back and block just in time to keep the score at 1-0.

Against the run of play, it was in fact England who came closest next, and using the same method they had been using for the opening 30 minutes, when Carroll nodded down a long ball right onto the foot of the onrushing Steven Gerrard, but the vice-captain’s half-volley flew over from 15 yards.

As the half wore on, England started to settle and find space in midfield. Theo Walcott managed to drive past Eric Abidal to cause excitement inside Wembley, only for Philippe Mexes to slide in a clear into touch. This was shortly followed by Gerrard and Carroll linking up well in the centre of midfield to allow the striker to gallop forward, successfully attempt a step-over or two, but ultimately fail with the final pass to slip in Walcott just outside the French penalty area.

Fabio Capello made changes at the break as his side ventured back onto the Wembley turf looking for an equaliser with Walcott, who is just coming back from injury, and Ferdinand being replaced by Adam Johnson and Micah Richards with Mexes coming off to allow the very promising Mamadou Sakho to make his French debut.

The ensuing change in player positions, with James Milner going more centrally and Gerrard dropping slightly further back, did not do England any favours as before they knew it they were 2-0 down.

Gourcuff again produced some tidy interplay in midfield before slipping it wide for Bacary Sagna to dash down the right and past his domestic team-mate Kieran Gibbs and cross the ball into the path of  down the right who served a delicious cross for Mathieu Valbuena to place a side-foot volley into the corner of the net.

Looking thoroughly unimpressed from the touchline, Capello seemed to agree that his side were not capable of matching the superior passing game that Les Blues were playing, but as Gerrard’s header from Johnson’s free kick flashes across the goal face only to bounce off the top of the bar, a threat from set-pieces was still very evident.

Unfortunately one of their most powerful efforts from set-pieces was Carroll, but Capello decided to replace him with 20 minutes to go to give the, albeit similarly tall, Jay Bothroyd his own England debut and from the first set-play since his introduction, Bothroyd came close to scoring.

Milner played a simple ball into the area for Adam Johnson to run onto and hit, the ball ricocheted amongst a crowd players before nearly falling to the striker. From the resulting corner, Johnson again smacked the ball into the six-yard box and against Bothroyd was unlucky not to find himself with more time to control and the Sakho scrambled the ball away.

With Gerrard now seeing a lot more of the ball after being pushed back more centrally by Capello it was one of his typical late arrivals into the area that saw England come within a whisker of pulling a goal back.

Johnson twisted and turned down the right and pulled a smart low cross across the face of goal that Hugo Lloris spilled, only for Gerrard to fire his low drive inches past the post to groans of the England faithful.

Moments later it was a case of ‘whatever Gerrard can do, Nasri can do better’ as the playmaker nearly capped a very impressive performance by dancing around the watching England defenders and cracking a shot against Foster’s post.

England nearly spoilt the French invasion when, with five minutes remaining, Capello put on his final substitute with Peter Crouch replacing the hobbling Gerrard and the third tall striker of the night, mere seconds after coming on, latched onto one of England’s first successful crosses into the area to side-foot volley the ball into the back of the net for his 22nd goal in his 42 appearance at this level.

A late, and long overdue rally from England could not force a dramatic, and thoroughly undeserved, equaliser and Capello, for the second time in his England tenure, tasted defeat against the French.