France, Belgium dance to goalless draw
AROUND THE WORLD ...
France was held to a 0-0 a draw by Belgium in a friendly containing few chances Tuesday, extending its unbeaten run to 17 matches despite showing little invention.
The French players left the field to loud jeers from the Stade de France crowd after hardly testing goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
''We expect goals, so when there are none we are inevitably disappointed,'' France coach Laurent Blanc said. ''It's not all negative although we have to play much better.
''Our next match is against Germany in February, a team superior to Belgium.''
France striker Karim Benzema went close with a glancing header from Anthony Reveillere's cross in the 70th minute, while Belgium substitute Kevin Mirallas forced France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris into a smart double save five minutes later.
''Of course the crowd wanted goals, so did we,'' Benzema said. ''But it's a warmup match, so it's not that important.''
France lost midfielder Yann M'Vila near halftime when carried off on a stretcher with his neck in a brace after landing heavily following a collision with Belgium winger Eden Hazard close to the touch line.
M'Vila was taken to hospital but his injury is not thought to be serious.
''As far as I know, he's hurt his neck muscles but not badly,'' Blanc said. ''He's having some tests.''
Blanc ditched the restrictive 4-4-2 formation he used in Friday's scrappy 1-0 win over the United States in favor of a more flexible 4-2-3-1 formation, with Benzema as a central striker flanked by Ribery and Loic Remy.
But the new formation offered little improvement.
''It was worse than average,'' Lloris said. ''We were passive in the final third and didn't make the right choices.''
Belgium used Jelle Vossen in a lone striker's role, with Eden Hazard and Moussa Dembele switching sides on the flanks to make it more difficult for France's defenders to settle.
After a slow start, Belgium threatened when defender Daniel Van Buyten went close with a downward header that flashed just wide in the 15th minute.
''I'm fairly pleased with how we played. We've got a young team that's gaining in maturity and I'm happy with the character and enthusiasm they showed,'' Belgium coach Georges Leekens said. ''We hurried things a bit going forward, but I think we were solid in defense.''
Midfielder Yohan Cabaye and Benzema were felled by heavy first-half challenges as Belgium dominated the physical matchups.
Ribery failed to make an impact in the early stages, seemingly unsure whether to pass or shoot when he got near the Belgium penalty area. But when Cabaye picked him out with a cushioned 50-yard, cross-field pass that landed perfectly at his feet, Ribery at least forced Courtois into action with a curling shot from the edge of the area.
With M'Vila replaced by Lyon's Maxime Gonalons, Belgium continued to rough France up.
Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen was shown a yellow card for a crude late challenge on Remy, while Everton's Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel easily outmuscled Cabaye and the equally diminutive Marvin Martin in the center of the field.
''It was better for us in the second half because there was more space,'' Fellaini said. ''We did what we had to do and created a few chances of our own.''
Benzema had a shot blocked by Vincent Kompany and Cabaye went close with a rasping shot that beat Courtois but flew just past the post. But these were rare moments of encouragement for Blanc, and Benzema often dropped so deep to collect the ball that France effectively had no center forward at times.
Mirallas came on for Vossen and almost broke the stalemate from just inside the area. The rebound fell back to him, but Lloris stood up well to bat the ball away for a corner.
Belgium almost sneaked a late winner when Hazard darted into the penalty area in the last minute and floated over a dangerous cross, but left back Eric Abidal read the danger well and chested the ball expertly to Lloris.
France: Hugo Lloris; Anthony Reveillere, Adil Rami, Mamadou Sakho, Eric Abidal; Yann M'Vila (Maxime Gonalons, 42), Yohan Cabaye; Marvin Martin; Loic Remy (Olivier Giroud, 72), Karim Benzema (Jeremy Menez, 72), Franck Ribery (Florent Malouda, 72).
Belgium: Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Daniel Van Buyten, Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen; Moussa Dembele (Nacer Chadli, 62), Marouane Fellaini, Timmy Simons, Eden Hazard; Axel Witsel, Jelle Vossen (Kevin Mirallas, 69).