French suffer home defeat to Belarus
France's football misery only got worse Friday when it followed up its World Cup debacle with an embarrassing 1-0 loss at home to Belarus in their opening qualifier for the 2012 European Championship, with Sergei Kislyak scoring in the 86th minute to stun the Stade de France crowd.
With new coach Laurent Blanc taking over from Raymond Domenech, France was facing its home fans on Friday for the first time since its disastrous World Cup performance and struggled to create chances in front of a largely supportive crowd.
"It's hard to be positive and to take something from a defeat when you thought you would win," Blanc said. "Even if you like your team, they still have to win and take points. We didn't do that tonight and we have to face up to that."
They were caught cold when Vyacheslav Hleb skillfully weaved his way into the right of the penalty area and pulled the ball back for Kislyak, who beat goalkeeper Hugo Lloris with a powerful shot into the top right corner.
"When you don't win a game you have to know how not to lose it. We wanted to take three points from this first game and we got none," Blanc said. "We were clumsy and naive on the goal we conceded."
Substitute Kevin Gameiro shot just over with the last kick as the French were jeered at the final whistle.
France went out of this year's World Cup and the European Championship two years ago in the first round without winning a game. The French also lost their opening 2010 World Cup qualifier immediately after Euro 2008.
Although more popular than Domenech, Blanc is already under pressure heading into Tuesday's match away to Bosnia.
"Bosnia is a very important game for us. This group will be close until the end," Blanc said. "It is imperative that we pick up points there."
Belarus coach Bernd Stange struggled to contain his joy, although he sympathized with Blanc - who also lost his first game in charge of France in a 2-1 away defeat to Norway in a friendly last month.
"It's quite sensational what we did today. I don't think you can say that we were lucky, we deserved to win," Stange said. "But I feel for Laurent Blanc, because I know from my experience it is very difficult to build a national team in two weeks."
After crashing out of the World Cup without winning a game, and shocking its fans and politicians by going on strike during a training session, France badly needed a win to boost morale.
"We know we have a lot of work to do and that we're in a rebuilding phase, but it's still annoying to lose," France striker Loic Remy said. "We were a large favorite on paper, but there are no guarantees in football. We knew we were up against a team that likes to play on the counter attack and we fell into their trap."
Chelsea winger Florent Malouda, who was chosen as France captain, had the ball in the net in the 63rd minute but his effort was ruled offside. Things then went from mediocre to poor for the French.
Louis Saha's international comeback after four years out lasted about 10 minutes, limping off injured soon after coming on as a second-half substitute.
Saha, who kept clutching the back of his right knee, gestured to Blanc that he wanted to stay on but Gameiro replaced him.
Blanc had surprisingly picked Rennes midfielder Yann M'Vila over Alou Diarra, his former captain at Bordeaux. Remy and Guillaume Hoarau started in attack.
In contrast to the jeers that always rang out when former coach Raymond Domenech's name was announced over the stadium loud speaker, a huge cheer rang out from the 76,000 crowd when Blanc's name was read out.
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Blanc had feared the reception the players would receive following their World Cup debacle, but chants of "Allez, Les Bleus!" encouraged the players.
Blanc had also urged all his national players to sing the national anthem, even giving them sheets to learn the words.
They all did, with the exception of Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby, who was stern-faced as the crowd sang along loudly.
France started at a quick pace but could not maintain it as Belarus marked closely and shut down space. When Remy did manage to slip his marker in the 17th, he headed wide from Jeremy Menez's corner.
Remy then came off in the 34th after taking a knock and was replaced by Marseille's Mathieu Valbuena, who took Menez's place on the right wing as the Roma forward moved inside to partner Hoarau.
Belarus frustrated the crowd by keeping possession well in the first half, with former Arsenal midfielder Aleksandr Hleb controlling the midfield against the inexperienced pairing of M'Vila and Diaby, who were playing for the first time together.
Malouda broke free and his shot from 25 yards tested goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov, who palmed the ball away.
Valbuena then teed up Hoarau with a good chance in the 48th but, off balance, the PSG striker sent his shot well over.
Belarus should have taken the lead in the 52nd when Vitaly Rodionov shot wide of the right post.
Saha came on for Menez in the 69th and, as France began to find more space, Valbuena's shot was well saved by Zhevnov.
But it was Belarus who showed the composure needed to finish off the game with a superbly worked goal.
"It's an excellent start for Belarus, and it will be even better if we beat Romania on Tuesday," Stange said.
France: Hugo Lloris; Bakary Sagna, Adil Rami, Philippe Mexes, Gael Clichy; Jeremy Menez (Louis Saha, 69; Kevin Gameiro, 80)), Yann M'Vila, Abou Diaby, Florent Malouda; Loic Remy (Mathieu Valbuena, 34), Guillaume Hoarau.
Belarus: Yuri Zhevnov; Aleksandr Kulchy, Aleksandr Martynovich, Aleksandr Yurevich, Yan Tigorev, Sergei Omelyanchuk, Vitaly Kutuzov (Sergei Kislyak, 75), Vitaly Rodionov (Sergei Kornilenko, 85), Vyacheslav Hleb, Aleksandr Hleb, Igor Shitov.