France beats Estonia 4-0 in Euro 2012 warm-up
LE MANS, France (AP)
Karim Benzema scored twice and brilliantly set up Franck Ribery for his third goal in three games as France beat Estonia 4-0 Tuesday to boost confidence ahead of next week's European Championship match against England.
France has won its three Euro 2012 warm-up matches, and is undefeated in 21 straight games.
Although the defense still looks shaky, France is bristling with menace in attack, with the attacking trio of Ribery, Benzema and Samir Nasri in ominous form.
''The match pleased me, so did the atmosphere, it's been a while since we felt the whole crowd was behind us, like it was tonight. It was a great night of football,'' coach Laurent Blanc said. ''Over the three matches we've performed very well in attack. In other areas a bit less so, (notably) in defense. I'm going to be clear about that. I'm not going to mince words.''
Ribery's place in the team was questioned in recent months, even by Blanc, but he has emerged from his slump in rampant style and is finally reproducing his Bayern Munich form for France.
''If Franck gets into the habit of scoring every game, then that's just fine,'' Blanc said.
Winger Jeremy Menez completed the scoring in injury time.
France also seems to have won back its notoriously hard to please fans, with the players getting a massive ovation after the game as they stood together and raised a banner reading: `Merci!! A l'Euro, avec vous, pour vous.' (Thanks!! Off to the Euro, with you, for you.)
Blanc gave left back Patrice Evra and center half Philippe Mexes another chance to prove themselves.
While Evra looked reasonably comfortable, Mexes will have done little to reassure Blanc after his calamitous error almost gifted Estonia the lead in the eighth minute.
The AC Milan defender went to clear a routine cross from the right, but the ball got stuck between his feet and his botched clearance fell straight to Henrik Ojamaa, whose shot flew past the left post.
''What bothers me is that we play ourselves into trouble. In football and in sport in general, you have to keep things simple,'' Blanc said. ''But we didn't keep things simple in the first half. The defenders must realize that they have to be more rigorous, tougher, and to play more simply.''
Estonia was liveliest early on and Mexes had to be alert to cut out Andres Oper's cross before it reached Ojamaa at the near post.
Ribery almost created a goal in the 17th minute when he got to the byline and whipped over a cross that just eluded Benzema.
Estonia's small traveling army of some 150 fans made themselves heard when Konstantin Vassiljev's shot from 35 yards (meters) went wide, with the home fans somewhat subdued as the French side struggled to find its rhythm.
But Benzema's moment of magic opened up Estonia's stubborn defense in the 24th minute.
Malouda flicked the ball to Ribery, who chested it down to Benzema, and the Real Madrid forward then instantly backheeled it into the path of Ribery, who controlled it with one touch on his chest and then drove a low shot into the bottom right corner.
That boosted confidence and Yohan Cabaye hit a stinging shot that beat goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko but just missed the target.
Ribery then jinked past left back Taijo Teniste and drilled the ball across the goalmouth, but no one was there to turn it in.
France kept possession well, and Estonia's players started to flag as they chased the ball all over the field.
The second goal came in the 37th minute and Benzema took it superbly.
Malouda chipped a long corner to the back post, and Estonia's clearance landed at the feet of Benzema, lurking just inside the left of the penalty area. He took one touch to control the ball and then curled it viciously with his right foot into the opposite corner.
Benzema's second, which came just two minutes into the second half, was somewhat easier but nonetheless clinical as he clipped Ribery's cross from the right with his left foot into the bottom corner.
With France pushing forward in numbers, Evra was caught out of position but let off as midfielder Sander Puri miscued his shot.
Ribery was given a rousing ovation as he left the field midway through the second half, shortly after Benzema had gone close to completing his hat trick, only to shoot too close to Pareiko after skipping past three defenders.
Blanc changed his forward line with about 20 minutes to go, bringing on Hatem Ben Arfa, Olivier Giroud and Menez, who fired over the bar before grabbing his first international goal when he finished from close range after Giroud pushed Evra's cross into his feet.