Benzema scores winner as France beats Brazil 1-0
Karim Benzema scored in his third successive international match as France beat 10-man Brazil 1-0 in a friendly on Wednesday, showing further signs that is improving quickly under new coach Laurent Blanc.
The Real Madrid striker scored in the 54th minute after brilliant work from Jeremy Menez down the right, and could have scored five more goals.
Brazil midfielder Hernanes was shown a straight red card for an awful challenge on Benzema in the 40th minute.
Goalkeeper Julio Cesar denied Benzema with two superb saves, one at point-blank range, and Benzema clipped a shot just wide of the right post after a mazy run.
France's fifth straight win strongly suggests Blanc is turning the team around. He replaced the beleaguered Raymond Domenech after France went out of last year's World Cup without winning a match.
''The wins against England and Brazil should give us a lot more confidence individually and collectively,'' Blanc said. ''I hope we can use it in the future for the important (2012 European Championship) qualifiers coming up.''
Blanc accepted the red card made France's task much simpler.
''It is easier with 11 against 10, there's much more space and the Brazilians have to play with one up front, so they're obviously less dangerous,'' Blanc said.
Benzema scored in the 2-1 away win against England and at home to Luxembourg late last year. He got a standing ovation at Stade de France and a thumbs up from Blanc when he came off late in the game.
His 12th international goal in his 33rd match came after the AS Roma forward Menez glided effortlessly past two players and squared the ball perfectly across the goalmouth for Benzema to stroke into the net.
Benzema almost scored again a minute later but Cesar made a stunning save to push away his diving header after a looping cross from Arsenal right back Bacary Sagna.
''The goalkeeper stopped him scoring more, but what you have to remember is that Karim was dangerous every time he touched the ball,'' Blanc said. ''I don't want to speak about individual players too much, but Karim had a great game.''
Cesar thwarted Benzema again with another excellent save five minutes later from an angled a shot that was heading for the bottom left corner.
Benzema was brimming with confidence and, with 15 minutes remaining, he collected the ball wide left and ran at the backtracking Brazil defenders. He teased them with a couple of stepovers, before hitting a drifting shot that almost found the top right-hand corner.
France attacked from the outset and playmaker Yoann Gourcuff's wonderful first-time pass over his shoulder played Benzema through in the ninth minute, but he shot just wide.
Menez, sprightly all night, linked up with Benzema soon after and their one-two almost prized open Brazil's defense.
Brazil coach Mano Menezes chose a squad consisting entirely of European-based players.
The team showed little of its renowned creativity and had to wait until the 32nd minute before Andre Santos and Hernanes combined on the edge of the penalty area, but France managed to clear the ball before Hernanes could shoot.
AC Milan forward Robinho then shot just over in the 35th.
With a little more than five minutes remaining until half time, Hernanes was shown a straight red card by referee Wolfgang Stark for violent lunge on Benzema. The foul was reminiscent of Netherlands midfielder Nigel de Jong's chest-high tackle on his Spain counterpart Xabi Alonso in last year's World Cup final.
The Lazio player pleaded his case before walking off with his head down to a chorus of jeers and whistles.
''Unfortunately the referee was very strict with Hernanes,'' Brazil defender David Luiz said. ''The red card had a big impact on our team. But we fought hard until the end.''
Menez then broke down the right again and his bending cross was brilliantly punched away by Cesar.
Soon after the restart, Florent Malouda slipped down the left and his pinpoint cross found Benzema lurking near the penalty spot. He chested the ball down and struck the ball sweetly, but Thiago Silva's brilliantly timed block rescued Brazil.
France sensed Brazil's right flank was the weakest, and Malouda, Benzema and Gourcuff combined neatly again in the 53rd, with Gourcuff hitting a low drive that Cesar easily gathered.
Brazil substitute Hulk raced into the penalty area with one minute remaining, but 'keeper Hugo Lloris raced off his line to push the ball away.
French substitute forwards Loic Remy and Kevin Gameiro then almost combined for a goal, but the score remained 1-0.
''We're very, very happy. Even though it was a friendly, Brazil are a reference on the world stage,'' Malouda said. ''We've started the year on a high note.''
France: Hugo Lloris, Bacary Sagna, Adil Rami, Philippe Mexes, Eric Abidal, Alou Diarra, Yann M'Vila (Abou Diaby, 60), Jeremy Menez (Loic Remy, 69), Yoann Gourcuff (Yohan Cabaye, 86), Florent Malouda, Karim Benzema (Kevin Gameiro, 86).
Brazil: Julio Cesar, Daniel Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Lucas, Andre Santos, Elias (Andre 89), Renato Augusto (Jadson, 59), Hernanes, Alexandre Pato (Hulk, 85), Robinho (Sandro, 70).