Benzema, Valbuena lead France to win at England

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.”