Soccer

France beats Luxembourg 2-0 in Euro 2012 qualifier

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LUXEMBOURG (AP)

Philippe Mexes and Yoann Gourcuff scored a goal in each half on Friday as France beat Luxembourg 2-0 to extend its lead atop its group in European Championship qualifying.

The French took another step toward leaving the World Cup fiasco behind them as the match marked the first time Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery and Manchester United defender Patrice Evra wore the national jersey since the squad exited in the first round in South Africa last year.

Both Ribery and Evra started the game and struggled as much as their teammates against a very defensive Luxembourg team.

France coach Laurent Blanc, however, said he was happy with their display.

''They took a tentative start,'' Blanc said. ''They then gradually got into the match. They did a good job and there is a chance to see them stay with us. They actually are part of the France group.''

France leads the Group D standings with four wins after recovering from a defeat at home to Belarus, which is now four points behind.

Belarus plays at Albania on Saturday while Bosnia hosts Romania in the group's other games.

Evra was France's captain at the World Cup and led the team in a training-ground strike that shocked a nation and led to him receiving a five-game ban. Ribery, for his perceived role as one of the ringleaders, got a three-match suspension.

Evra started at left back ahead of Arsenal's Gael Clichy. Eric Abidal, Blanc's first-choice left back, is recovering after an operation to remove a tumor on his liver.

Ribery started on the right wing, in a position where he first came to prominence with France, while midfielder Yann M'Vila was picked ahead of Alou Diarra to play in front of the defense.

With Karim Benzema playing up front as a sole striker, France dominated possession but could not find the cutting edge to break down a stubborn Luxembourg defense and committed several fouls in the first 15 minutes.

Blanc's team waited until the 19th minute to create its first chance when Bacary Sagna crossed the ball in the box from Ribery's pass, only to see Florent Malouda blasting over the bar.

Luxembourg's Ben Payal then tried his luck from long range but missed the target in the 26th, two minutes before Mexes jumped higher than defenders to beat goalkeeper Jonathan Joubert with a powerful and precise header from Samir Nasri's free kick.

Against a team mostly made up of amateur players, France failed to impress and did not have a shot on target until the 40th minute when Sagna tested Joubert with a low strike from the edge of the box.

Benzema then showed his dribbling skills to turn a defender but saw his right-footed curled strike denied by Mario Mutsch's save in the 42nd.

Luxembourg sat back with 10 men in its own half after the interval as France - which recently beat Brazil and England in friendlies - continued to struggle to find space.

Benzema and Malouda exerted some pressure on the defense but were often caught offside before Rami headed a corner directly at Joubert in the 66th.

Benzema, who had scored in his previous three games for France, then turned three defenders but could only shoot wide from a tight angle.

Gourcuff finally gave France more room to breathe in the 72nd after the Luxembourg defense failed to clear Ribery's cross from the left. Gourcuff latched on to the ball and fired a low shot that beat Joubert to his right.

France could have added more goals through Benzema, but the Real Madrid striker missed the target from close range after Malouda completely fluffed his chance, then fired a curled shot inches wide at the far post in the 87th.

''Before the game, I thought France had only one objective: to score a lot of goals against the minnows Luxembourg,'' said Luxembourg coach Luc Holtz. ''But if I look at their chances and at the ball possession, I can say that the modest amateurs from Luxembourg managed pretty well.''

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Lineups:

Luxembourg: Jonathan Joubert, Guy Blaise, Eric Hoffmann, Tom Schnell, Charles Leweck (Jacques Plein, 90), Gilles Bettmer, Ben Payal, Aurelien Joachim, Tom Laterza (Massimo Martino, 55), Mario Mutsch, Lars Gerson (Daniel Da Mota, 71).

France: Hugo Lloris, Bacary Sagna, Philippe Mexes, Patrice Evra, Adil Rami, Yann M'Vila, Yoann Gourcuff, Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri, Florent Malouda, Karim Benzema.



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