Young Lions taught French lesson

France ended England's unbeaten home record under Fabio Capello with an impressive display in a deserved 2-1 friendly victory at Wembley.

Last Updated: 17/11/10 at 23:27 Post Comment

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Aside from Andy Carroll, who did as well as he could with such little service, and the ever-dependable Steven Gerrard, there were few straws for England to grasp until substitute Peter Crouch did what he does best within seconds of his arrival.

It took the Tottenham forward just over a minute to turn home Ashley Young's corner and claim his 22nd international goal, joint 15th on England's all-time list.

Unfortunately, though England continued to pump high balls into the visitors' area, it was not enough to threaten a superior French team who had claimed a matchwinning lead through Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena and inflicted the hosts' first defeat since their loss to Germany in Bloemfontein.

Les Bleus seem to have recovered far more quickly from their World Cup shambles, and while many of Capello's team will emerge as better players for this experience, the fact most of the elder statesmen failed to perform does not bode particularly well.

By half-time, even the Brent residents who had taken advantage of the Football Association's £5 ticket offer must have felt they had overpaid.

Any assessment of Capello's experimental side must be qualified with an acknowledgement of how young some of its components were.

However, there were clear deficiencies. Right-back Phil Jagielka had a major problem, his starting positions too often incorrect, which was only to be expected of someone who has played that role so infrequently.

Florent Malouda certainly enjoyed himself, cutting in from his left-wing station at regular intervals as France took control of the first-half.

Debutant Jordan Henderson was incapable of preventing himself being completely bypassed. Far more worryingly, the same sentiment could be applied to the vastly experienced Gareth Barry.

Malouda almost caught Ben Foster out with a shot from the edge of the area after he had been presented with far too much room to advance into.

Yoann Gourcuff brought an excellent save from Joe Hart's deputy as his shot dipped wickedly at the last moment.

These events were the precursor to Benzema's fine 16th-minute strike.

Questions should not just be asked of how Foster was beaten at his near post. Others should be raised of the ease with which the Real Madrid forward, now back in Jose Mourinho's good books, was first able to take possession, then race on unchecked as he belted Malouda's neat return pass into the net.

Within minutes, Benzema and Samir Nasri had performed a repeat. This time overworked skipper Rio Ferdinand was able to block.

Benzema also fired well wide when he should have done much better given the neat approach play of Nasri and Malouda.

England needed to relieve the pressure. They did so by utilising Carroll's main strength. His power.

In one way it was depressing to see England revert to type so readily. In another it was easy to see why. The truth was it worked.

Two cushioned headers from the Newcastle man created opportunities that Steven Gerrard and James Milner drove straight at Hugo Lloris.

Another was sent flying into orbit by Gerrard after he had caught his shot on the half-volley.

Carroll even managed to create half a yard for himself on the edge of the box, although again Lloris gathered the shot more than saved it.

One of three half-time changes, Micah Richards introduced at full-back to allow Jagielka to return to a role he is more comfortable with in the centre, should have made England a more durable defensive unit. It barely made a difference.

After a pretty even battle with Arsenal team-mate Kieran Gibbs, Bacary Sagna scored a decisive victory when he shot down the touchline unopposed, exposing a chronic lack of cover, before crossing into a penalty area where the dangerous Valbuena arrived with perfect timing to finish.

England responded positively at least to that 55th-minute setback. Carroll brought another save out of Lloris before receiving a decent ovation as he made way for Cardiff's Jay Bothroyd, who joined that exclusive club of non-top flight internationals.

A shot from substitute Adam Johnson turned into a game of pinball as it ricocheted off four bodies before bouncing wide, then the Manchester City winger delivered the teasing cross that Lloris pushed into Gerrard, only for the vice-captain's snap-shot to fly wide.

The excellent Nasri struck the outside of a post before Crouch turned home Ashley Young's far-post corner five minutes from time.

Crouch remains an enigma, with Capello unconvinced about the wider aspects of his game beyond what is surely vital for a striker, the principle task of finding the net.

Bothroyd could not manage it anyway, as his tame header wasted England's best chance of an equaliser in stoppage-time.

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