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Les Bleus can afford to look forward to 2011 with a genuine sense of optimism, Goal.com’s Robin Bairner believes...

Against apathetic England on Wednesday night, Laurent Blanc’s France took another significant step back towards the status of footballing heavyweights, impressively outplaying opponents who were left flattered by the 2-1 full-time result.

Admittedly the opposition were woeful technically, largely one-dimensional in their approach for long periods and lacking two of their better players in the form of Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard, but that shouldn’t detract from the ease with which les Bleus became the first team to defeat Fabio Capello’s England at Wembley.

For long periods of the first half it was almost embarrassing the comfort with which the visitors retained possession, confidently prodding the ball around the middle of the park when required but also boasting the kind of killer instinct around the box that was lacking under Raymond Domenech.

England, meanwhile, ran out of options after sending the ball along the width of the back four a couple of times and were inevitably left to hoof hopefully long, more often than not presenting Blanc’s men the ball.

On the sidelines ‘Le President’ watched transfixed, doubtless delighted with what he witnessed in virtually every area of his side. The malcontent air that lingered even after Raymond Domenech’s departure appears to have largely dissipated, with the performance of Eric Abidal at left-back, one of the chief dissenters during the previous regime, a pleasing aspect of a night on which there were many positive. The former Olympique Lyonnais man stepped back into the position impressively, covering back intelligently and pushing forward willing over the course of the fixture.

Blanc’s 4-3-3 set-up allowed the full-backs to provide the width in the side, with wingers Mathieu Valbuena and Florent Malouda fluid in their movements. Indeed, when the Chelsea man created Benzema’s opening with a sharp one-two at the edge of the box, it was the Real Madrid forward who was the furthest wide of the duo. Much of Valbuena’s best work also came far infield, his goal for instance.

Man of the Match
Samir Nasri
"Continued his fine form for Arsenal this
season with an excellent display of midfield
artistry with endeavour and movement.
Deserved a goal for his display but
hit the post late on."
Amar Singh, Goal.com UK
Importantly, the balance of the midfield was tipped towards the attacking side, despite playing away to the side positioned sixth in FIFA’s rankings. Given that Raymond Domenech played two holding midfielders in the Faroe Islands, Blanc’s decision to trust solely 20-year-old Yann M’Vila with the holding duties was positively cavalier.

It was a gamble that paid off, particularly in the first period, when France had so much possession defending was little more than an afterthought. Yoann Gourcuff had a significant influence on the match in an attacking sense, showing a graceful touch on the ball unparalleled in the opposing ranks and too often absent from his game this season.

But it was Samir Nasri who really caught the eye. The Arsenal man was prepared to take the Three Lions by the mane and bomb at their defence at full pace. On another evening he may well have had a goal, or an assist at the very least.

Quite simply, the dynamic nature of the French game blew static and uninspired England away.

Match Stats
ENG   FRA
1 Goals 2
47 Possession (%) 53
12 Total shots 16
7 On target 9
3 Corners 5
4 Fouls 15
This was not a perfect evening, though. Blanc will have been disappointed to have seen his side concede from a set-piece and even more disappointed that it was the trusted Alou Diarra who allowed Peter Crouch to escape and volley high into the net at the back post with minutes remaining.

A nervy close to the game may in hindsight even be useful for toughening les Bleus up mentally ahead of challenges to come in the European Championship qualifiers, and it will certainly have reminded the youngsters in the visiting ranks that in international football no team is ever untouchable, no matter how great their earlier dominance.

The closing minutes may have been fraught, but France abided, picking up their fourth successive victory and allowing them to end what has been a largely wretched 2010 on a high. But more than that, it allows Blanc and his young side to approach 2011 with a sense of optimism that has long since been missing from French football.

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