Belarus and France draw 1-1 in Euro 2012 qualifier
Florent Malouda scored an equalizer to earn France a 1-1 draw
away to Belarus in a scrappy European Championship qualifier on
An own goal from France defender Eric Abidal gave Belarus a
deserved lead in the 20th minute, but Malouda finished neatly two
minutes later after being set up by Karim Benzema in France’s first
attack of the match.
France remains top of Group D with 13 points from six matches,
while Belarus is second with nine points.
”It was a disappointing match, especially in the first half
when we didn’t start the match the right way,” France coach
Laurent Blanc said. ”We did everything in this match, we (even)
scored the two goals. The first in our own goal did us some good
because it woke us up.”
France had won its four previous qualifying matches, scoring
eight goals without conceding, after losing its opening match 1-0
at home to Belarus in September.
”They have taken four points off us in two matches, which is a
lot,” Blanc said. ”They’re not better than us but the reality is
they have taken four points off us, so we’ll have to make do with a
Belarus made a confident start, closing France down and tackling
aggressively, while the tricky Timofei Kalachev caused the visitors
major problems every time he got the ball in midfield.
Igor Shitov tested Hugo Lloris with a long shot that the Lyon
goalkeeper tipped over after 12 minutes.
France was slow, sloppy and ponderous throughout, particularly
in defense where center-half Mamadou Sakho looked nervous in his
first start for Laurent Blanc’s team.
France’s dismal start was punished after 20 minutes when
Kalachev floated over a freekick from the left and Barcelona
leftback Abidal turned the ball into his own net, even though he
was under no pressure from a Belarus striker.
Luckily for Blanc, France’s attack looked sharp when it finally
got the chance to show something.
France rightback Bacary Sagna charged to the byline and pulled
the ball back for Benzema. The Real Madrid striker laid it off
perfectly into Malouda’s path, and he curled the ball into the
bottom corner for his sixth international goal.
Although Chelsea failed to defend its Premier League and FA Cup
titles this season, Malouda enjoyed the most prolific season of his
career on the wing, scoring 13 league goals.
However, the strike did little to galvanize a lackluster France
side that struggled to put two passes together in a scrappy first
half. Several players, particularly Bayern Munich winger Franck
Ribery, clearly looked jaded.
Ribery had not played any club football for three weeks, while
midfielder Samir Nasri started only one game in the last six weeks
of Arsenal’s topsy-turvy season.
”We were lacking a bit of impetus and energy, but we knew
that,” Blanc said. ”We could have won tonight, but I don’t think
we deserved to.”
Even though Benzema was way off his peak form, he still looked
France’s best player, swiping at an opportunity near the back post
and hitting his volley high and wide after 35 minutes.
From a corner shortly after, France midfielder Alou Diarra rose
well but headed wide.
Blanc picked a 4-2-3-1 formation with Benzema as the lone
Abidal, a recent Champions League winner with Barcelona, was
picked ahead of Manchester United’s Patrice Evra at leftback, while
Sakho replaced the injured Philippe Mexes alongside Lille’s Adil
Benzema wasted a half-chance in the 65th when he shot straight
at Sergei Veremko from a narrow angle on the right of the penalty
Nasri created another shooting chance for Benzema, moments
later, but again Benzema failed to properly test Veremko.
Belarus: Sergei Veremko; Aleksandr Martynovich, Vitaly Trubilo,
Yan Tigorev, Anton Putilo (Sergei Kislyak, 85), Timofei Kalachev
(Vyacheslav Hleb, 90), Sergei Omelyanchuk, Andrei Voronkov, Maksim
Bordachev, Dmitri Verkhovtsov, Igor Shitov.
France: Hugo Lloris; Bacary Sagna, Mamadou Sakho, Adil Rami,
Eric Abidal, Alou Diarra, Abou Diaby (Loic Remy, 73), Florent
Malouda, Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema.