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

Friday.

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

point tonight.”

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

striker.

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

Rami.

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

area.

Nasri created another shooting chance for Benzema, moments

later, but again Benzema failed to properly test Veremko.

Lineups:

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.