France held to 0-0 home draw by Croatia
France’s winning streak came to an end when it was held to a 0-0 draw at home to Croatia on Tuesday, with Karim Benzema missing an easy chance and Adil Rami hitting the post for Laurent Blanc’s side.
France entered the match on the back of six straight wins, but lacked a cutting edge against Slaven Bilic’s disciplined if overly physical Croatia.
Benzema has scored freely for Real Madrid in recent weeks, but managed to miss from six yards (meters) in the 40th minute after good work from Jeremy Menez down the right.
Rami hit the post in the second half, and the defender landed heavily on his shoulder attempting a bicycle kick late on, and was stretchered off.
France was jeered at the final whistle at Stade de France.
Menez looked the liveliest player in a dull first half, twice getting into good positions, the second time picking out Benzema with a pass he should have buried, rather than spooning it over the crossbar.
Croatia was keen to make amends for its surprise 1-0 defeat to Georgia in Euro 2012 qualifying last weekend, but created only one decent chance.
A quick break down the left almost saw Bilic’s team take the lead in the 43rd, when France left back Gael Clichy was caught out of position, forcing defender Philippe Mexes to come over and cover Ivan Perisic’s run.
But Mexes was too casual and clumsily shepherded Perisic into space, and he forced goalkeeper Hugo Lloris into a one-handed save with his curling shot.
Menez provided Benzema with a half-chance, but he shot wide and the players walked off to jeers at halftime.
Some Croatia fans lit flares in their section of the stadium at the start of the second period, and threw several flares onto the field, forcing stewards to retrieve them.
Defender Patrice Evra and winger Franck Ribery were back in front of their home fans for the first time since receiving bans over their roles as ringleaders during France’s notorious World Cup strike.
They were both on the bench, and there were boos when the stadium announcer read their names out quicker than usual.
Blanc made five changes from Friday’s laborious 2-0 win against Luxembourg in a qualifier, with Menez taking Ribery’s slot on the right wing.
Ribery was loudly jeered when he eventually came on for Florent Malouda in the 68th minute, although pockets of the crowd tried to offer their support by chanting his name sporadically.
Ribery tried to get France’s weak attack going, but it was actually Rami who almost provided the breakthrough with 20 minutes remaining after a moment of surprising skill.
The giant Lille centerhalf charged through midfield, then lost his marker with a Ronaldo-esque stepover before curling the ball over goalie Stipe Pletikosa and onto the right post.
Moments after embarking on another solo run, Benzema clutched the back of his left thigh, and was replaced by Lorient striker Kevin Gameiro in the 74th.
Ribery and Gameiro almost unlocked the tight Croatia defense with a quick one-two, and Arsenal midfielder Samir Nasri’s clever chip over the defense should have produced a better header from Gameiro soon after.
France pushed hard in the closing stages, with Ribery picking out substitute Loic Remy with a pinpoint pass, but Remy decided against chipping Pletikosa and then failed tried to round the keeper.
Rami again tried to be the match-winner, leaping up to hit an audacious scissor kick. But he paid the price for that moment of inspiration, thudding into the ground and writhing in agony as he grabbed his shoulder.
France: Hugo Lloris, Anthony Reveillere, Adil Rami (Mamadou Sakho, 90), Philippe Mexes, Gael Clichy, Alou Diarra, Blaise Matuidi (Yann M’Vila, 88), Jeremy Menez (Loic Remy, 59), Florent Malouda (Franck Ribery, 59), Samir Nasri (Yoann Gourcuff, 88), Karim Benzema (Kevin Gameiro, 74).
Croatia: Vedran Runje (Stipe Pletikosa, 46), Josip Simunic, Dejan Lovren, Vedran Corluka, Daniel Pranjic (Ivan Strinic, 22; Ivan Rakitic, 46), Ognjen Vukojevic, Luka Modric, Darijo Srna (Domagoj Vida, 80), Nico Kranjcar, Nikica Jelavic (Nikola Kalinic, 56), Ivan Perisic (Mladen Petric, 71).