Monday 23 October 2017

Blanco unlocks French exit door

France 0
Mexico 2

New Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez enhanced his burgeoning reputation with the opening goal as Mexico took a significant step towards qualification from Group A and hastened France's early exit at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane.

Just nine minutes after coming off the bench the 22-year-old, who will officially move to Old Trafford from Chivas in a £7million deal next month, sprang the offside trap to race on to Rafael Marquez's pass, round goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and coolly slot home.

Veteran striker and cult hero Cuauhtemoc Blanco sealed victory with a 79th-minute penalty.

It was Mexico's first win over France at senior level and no less than they deserved after a performance full of vigour and attacking invention.

For the French, winners on home soil in 1998 and runners-up four years ago, the prospect of ignominious failure looms large - as it did at Euro 2008 when they failed to progress from their group.

Captain Patrice Evra may have shed a tear during the playing of La Marseillaise but there would have been many more Frenchman crying into their sauvignon blanc after another disappointing performance from Les Bleus.

The Manchester United defender had dismissed claims of disharmony within the camp at the pre-match press conference.

But everything about the team's demeanour spoke volumes: from the substitutes with what appeared to be tartan picnic rugs over their legs like a geriatrics' outing to coach Raymond Domenech's return to the dug-out a good minute before his players came out of the tunnel for the second half.

Most of the fluid, attacking football was played by Mexico, particularly before the interval.

Uruguay's win over South Africa last night to go top of the group had increased the pressure on both sides but they responded with some refreshingly open, if not decisive, play.

Early on Franck Ribery's 35-yard free-kick bounced in front of Oscar Perez but, unlike Algeria's Faouzi Chaouchi who blundered on this semi-artificial pitch on Sunday, the Mexico goalkeeper collected easily.

But whereas France were restricted to set-pieces, Mexico looked dangerous from open play.

Marquez's ball over the top saw three team-mates set off in pursuit; Arsenal's Carlos Vela reached it first but could not keep his 12-yard volley down.

Former West Ham striker Guillermo Franco was no closer when he all-too-easily turned William Gallas on the edge of the penalty area.

Mexico left-back Carlos Salcido twice went close, drilling wide of Lloris' left-hand post and then shooting straight at the goalkeeper.

Even the loss of Vela, being watched by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, to injury just after the half-hour did not interrupt the North Americans' fluency as substitute Pablo Barrera was straight into the action when Lloris punched Salcido's cross against him and was fortunate to see the ball bounce wide.

Giovani dos Santos flashed a shot wide before Jeremy Toulalan was booked in added time, ruling him out of France's final group match against South Africa.

The second half began with Andre Pierre Gignac coming on for Nicolas Anelka and Chelsea team-mate Florent Malouda, restored to the starting line-up at the expense of Yoann Gourcuff, having a shot tipped over by Perez.

But the introduction of Hernandez for Efrain Juarez soon after had an almost immediate impact.

His pace took him clear of the defence and his talent did the rest.

When Abidal brought down Barrera, Blanco side-footed home from the spot to spark wild Mexican celebrations.

A draw against Uruguay on Tuesday will put both sides through and send France home, irrespective of their result against the hosts.

Press Association

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