Dreadful England booed off after French lesson
ENGLAND were played off the park by France and booed off by their own supporters last night. Ignore the late rally, including Peter Crouch's consolation. England were embarrassed by the French.
Such was the superiority of Laurent Blanc's players that they should have scored more than the neat finishes of Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena.
England had nobody in the class of Samir Nasri or Yoann Gourcuff, who ran the central acres of Wembley as if they owned it. As usual when England come up against technical opponents like Nasri and Gourcuff, Benzema and Valbuena, they fold. England can plead that they were lacking many regulars, and John Terry, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney were missed.
They also looked like they had learned little from their World Cup miseries, continuing to stagnate under Fabio Capello, while France have been revitalised by Blanc. On the positive side, Andy Carroll showed promise but neither Jordan Henderson nor Jay Bothroyd look ready.
At the break, France should have been leading by far more than Benzema's 16th-minute strike. Capello made changes, ending the suicidal experiment of using the Everton centre-half Phil Jagielka at right-back, where Florent Malouda and Eric Abidal queued up to take him on, usually successfully.
Micah Richards came on at right-back, Jagielka moving to central defence and Rio Ferdinand heading for the showers. The first half showed that Jagielka is no right-back, just as Joleon Lescott is no international.
News of Gareth Barry's withdrawal drew particular delight from the England fans but Henderson, utterly anonymous, could also easily have been hooked. Friendlies are best judged on first halves, before the inevitable changes, and the verdict on England was dismal.
They were outclassed and outpassed by the outstanding Nasri. Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard were poor. At least Gerrard survived to contest the second half, although Valbuena soon punished England further.
England's system had been partly designed for Gerrard, a 4-2-3-1 formation encouraging him to support Carroll that echoed France's in shape if not substance.
France had in fact began nervily, for a minute anyway, and Philippe Mexes gifted England two early free-kicks.
England failed to exploit the dead-ball opportunities and France settled, Nasri and Malouda inevitably to the fore. Bacary Sagna and Valbuena kept getting behind Kieran Gibbs.
Whatever the contrast in technique, a real competitive edge could be detected at times in this friendly, James Milner thudding through Sagna, who responded with a spirited run back and sliding tackle to quell the danger.
Carroll showed some decent link-up work, dropping to the right and delivering a good ball to Gerrard who had broken through the middle. But France slammed the door shut effortlessly.
The French delivered a near master-class in the use of possession before the break. Blue waves swept towards Ben Foster's goal.
French attackers kept dropping a shoulder, selling dummies so frequently bought by Capello's players.
France's control was mesmerising, a contrast to England's. Malouda had a shot that Foster clutched at the second attempt. Birmingham's keeper then denied the excellent Gourcuff.
Mistakes littered England's play. Gerrard attempted one of his cross-field specials which was simply picked off, allowing France to glide forward. Benzema was beginning to find the stride that had made him such a coveted asset at Lyons before his career stagnated at Real Madrid.
Benzema was showing the quicksilver movement in the penalty box that had so excited Alex Ferguson. He gave early notice of his shooting threat but Ferdinand blocked.
When Benzema came calling again, England folded. Exchanging passes with Malouda, France's No 10 darted into the box. Ferdinand thought he had narrowed the angle, protecting Foster and his goal. Benzema had other ideas, striking the ball low and hard between Foster and his right-hand upright. As much as there was to admire in Benzema's technique, Foster was at fault.
Still the French dominated. The ease with which Gourcuff ghosted past Henderson after 24 minutes was alarming. Poor technique kept betraying England. Lescott played one terrible pass, far too high, putting Barry under pressure and presenting France with another attacking chance.
Carroll worked hard, heading the ball down into the path of Gerrard, who hooked over, but England were anaemic. Holding midfielder Yann M'vila, reportedly a target of Liverpool, demonstrated his calibre with a clearance to thwart Gerrard. More errors continued to scar England's play. Jagielka gave Mexes a souvenir of his visit to London by presenting him with the ball. The momentum remained with the exceptional French. After 56 minutes, their enterprising football was rewarded with a splendid second goal, Sagna crossing for Valbuena to apply the finish.
Capello continued to ring the changes, sending on Bothroyd for Carroll, who at least bowed out on a slightly promising note with a header that woke Hugo Lloris up from his evening's slumbers. Of the changes, Richards gave some impetus down the right.
Just after Gerrard went close with 11 minutes remaining, the England fans began streaming for the exits. When Gerrard then hobbled off, his replacement Crouch promptly scored, volleying in Ashley Young's corner.
England at least finished strongly, particularly when Adam Johnson had the ball, but it was too little too late. (© Daily Telegraph, London)