Benzema, Valbuena fire France to win

Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena scored to lead France to a 2-1 exhibition victory over England on Wednesday, another sign Les Bleus have put their World Cup debacle behind them.

France has won four straight matches under new coach Laurent Blanc, including three European Championship qualifiers, and the game against England wasn’t nearly as close as the scoreline indicated.

Benzema beat England goalkeeper Ben Foster at the near post in the 16th minute, and Valbuena’s volley in the 55th extended the lead for the rejuvenated French.

"We very much bossed the first half and turned that excellent play into a goal," Blanc said through a translator. "We talked before about how we would take the game to England because they are a very physical side … we managed to impose our own ideals.

"We kept the ball on the deck, retained possession and managed to match them blow for blow in the individual battles."

England substitute Peter Crouch spoiled the French shutout, scoring off an Ashley Young corner in the 86th. But Fabio Capello picked up his first home loss since becoming England’s coach almost three years ago.

"We could do better – we didn’t really pass the ball and we didn’t really get going until the last 15 minutes," England captain Rio Ferdinand said. "We didn’t play to our strengths today. We didn’t control the ball and we didn’t retain possession. There are things to work on when we next meet up. There’s room for improvement."

It was England’s first loss since exiting the World Cup in the second round.

When the French last visited Wembley – and secured a 2-0 win – they were world champions and were a year away from winning Euro 2000. They returned to the rebuilt stadium following an embarrassing World Cup display with several key players still suspended for their role in a mutiny during the tournament.

"We are still building for sure," Blanc said. "Something like this gives us confidence to speed that process up a bit … we feel a little bit more optimistic after tonight."

Benzema scored his 11th goal in 32 international appearances. It was Valbuena’s second international goal in his seventh appearance.

England also lost Steven Gerrard to a strained hamstring in the second half, angering the midfielder’s club team.

Capello confirmed Gerrard was only due to play for an hour, but remained on the field due to an injury to Gareth Barry. Gerrard’s injury drew an immediate response Darren Burgess, Liverpool’s head of fitness and conditioning.

"Unbelievable from all associated with England and English FA with regard to SG’s injury," Burgess posted on Twitter. "Completely ignored agreement and past history."

Burgess added in another post: "Completely amateurish and now we pay for their incompetence. Absolutely disgraceful."

While Burgess quickly removed his messages as they spread across the Internet, Capello said he understood why Liverpool was upset.

"We spoke with Steve and he said he would play one hour, but after Barry’s injury we had some problems," Capello said. "That was the reason he stayed on the pitch. If it’s possible, the players will play the time we agreed with the club.

"But Barry was really injured so we needed someone senior on the pitch because it was a really young team. He said he was good … I understand why they’re upset and I’m also upset."