France maintains revival by winning at England
France provided further evidence of its post-World Cup recovery Wednesday with a 2-1 friendly victory that gave coach Fabio Capello his first home loss since taking charge of the England team almost three years ago.
Karim Benzema beat England goalkeeper Ben Foster at his near post after 16 minutes and Mathieu Valbuena's volley put the rejuvenated French further ahead in the 55th.
While substitute Peter Crouch reduced the deficit in the 86th after connecting with Ashley Young's corner, the scoreline didn't reflect how the French outplayed a makeshift England side, which is still rebuilding after its own World Cup failure.
Laurent Blanc has led France to four straight wins since becoming coach, including a trio of 2012 European Championship qualifiers.
''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, though, slumped to its first loss since exiting the World Cup in the second round.
''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.''
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 a rebuilt stadium 11 years on, 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.''
Initially, they were on the back foot with England earning a free kick after a minute. But Steven Gerrard's low strike caused little trouble for goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and England was rarely in control again.
Foster produced a couple of saves to deny Malouda and a dipping 25-yard (meter) strike from Yoann Gourcuff before the French beat the goalkeeper on his first England appearance in a year.
The goal came from a player untainted by France's first-round exit in South Africa. Benzema took the ball on the edge of the penalty area and had two touches before playing a one-two with Malouda and easily beating Foster. It was the Real Madrid striker's 11th goal in 32 international appearances.
England was being comprehensively outplayed, unable to assert itself on the visitors, who controlled the midfield through Samir Nasri and Gourcuff.
Much had been made by Capello about the youthful, experimental composition of this side - with an injury-crisis up front, including the loss of Wayne Rooney, leading to striker Andy Carroll being handed his debut.
The 21-year-old Newcastle player's first shot in the 32nd was scuffed straight into the goalkeeper's arms. Carroll, though, was showing glimpses of the powerful influence Capello hoped he would be, with a header setting up Gerrard for a shot that went wide.
''(Carroll) will be a player who'll be important for the future,'' Capello said. ''When he received the ball he played quickly, and his movement every time was dangerous.''
Capello rang in the changes at half time, with Ferdinand replaced by Micah Richards, and midfielders Theo Walcott and Gareth Barry replaced by Adam Johnson and Ashley Young.
The changes didn't prevent England's defense being ripped apart again 10 minutes after the break, with the home side conceding possession on the halfway line and Bacary Sagna breaking down the right flank before crossing to Valbuena, who netted his second international goal on his seventh appearance.
The English only began pressing after both teams had made further changes with 20 minutes remaining, and threatened to make a late comeback.
But the home side couldn't follow up Crouch's goal with an equalizer as Jay Bothroyd headed over in stoppage time on his debut. Sunderland midfielder Jordan Henderson also made little impact as he earned his first cap, playing the full match.
''It is important for me that some young players play here at Wembley against a good team like France,'' Capello said.
England: Ben Foster, Phil Jagielka, Rio Ferdinand (Micah Richards, 46), Joleon Lescott, Kieran Gibbs (Stephen Warnock, 72), Theo Walcott (Adam Johnson, 46), Jordan Henderson, Gareth Barry (Gareth Barry, 46), James Milner, Steven Gerrard (Peter Crouch, 84), Andy Carroll (Jay Bothroyd, 72).
France: Hugo Lloris, Bacary Sagna (Anthony Reveillere, 86), Philippe Mexes (Mamadou Sakho, 46), Adil Rami, Eric Abidal, Samir Nasri, Yoann Gourcuff (Guillaume Hoarau, 85), Yann M'Vila, Florent Malouda (Dimitri Payet,77), Mathieu Valbuena (Alou Diarra, 68), Karim Benzema (Loic Remy, 68).