France beats Costa Rica 2-1 in friendly

Published May 26, 2010

| Associated Press

LENS, France (AP) — Mathieu Valbuena scored in his international debut to help France beat Costa Rica 2-1 in a World Cup warmup Wednesday, with Raymond Domenech's team showing encouraging signs in a new attacking formation.

Valbuena hit a low shot past Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas in the 83rd minute after coming off the bench in the second half, breaking a 1-1 tie.

"I knew he would score," France defender Patrice Evra said of Valbuena. "There's something about him, he's one of those players."

Domenech, who called up the inexperienced Franck Ribery just before the 2006 World Cup, seems to have taken another clever gamble on the 25-year-old Valbuena, who was playing semiprofessional ball only four years ago.

"It's special for me. To be taking part in a World Cup is exceptional for any player, to come on and score is extraordinary," Valbuena said. "I got the ball through the middle, controlled it quickly and shot. When I saw it was in the back of net it was very emotional for me. Scoring for France is something special."

Carlos Hernandez gave Costa Rica the lead in the 12th minute with a low shot which bounced under the body of France goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, and France equalized when Franck Ribery's cross from the left deflected in off defender Douglas Sequeira.

Arsenal defender William Gallas played his first match since March 31 after recovering from a calf injury, and was replaced by Sebastien Squillaci at halftime.

Domenech plans to give Gallas more playing time in the next two friendly games before the World Cup match against Uruguay on June 11.

"I wasn't worried, the thing he needed was to play games," Domenech said. "Gallas needs to get his rhythm back little by little. (He will play) one hour on Sunday (against Tunisia) and 90 minutes against China."

Domenech switched the French team to a 4-3-3 formation, dropping his usual two holding midfielders and picking Nicolas Anelka in attack.

"It shows what we're capable of doing, we've been telling the players to just go for it. We need to keep showing the same desire, the same panache," Domenech said. "Our attacking play was more encouraging, but (the system) poses problems defensively that we will have to address. We will need to be a bit stronger and solid, we shouldn't get carried away."

He has long favored a cautious 4-2-3-1 lineup with Jeremy Toulalan and Lassana Diarra shielding the defense, but Domenech reconsidered after Diarra went home last week because of a genetic red-blood cell disorder.

In the 10th minute, Florent Malouda's pass cut through the Costa Rica defense and Sidney Govou forced a good save from Navas.

Mandanda redeemed himself for not saving the deflection goal by Ribery midway through the first half with a fine tip-over save of Bryan Ruiz's curling shot, but France again showed a glaring weakness on set-pieces when Ruiz's header hit the crossbar in the 34th minute.

Bordeaux's Yoann Gourcuff and Chelsea's Florent Malouda were beside Toulalan in a new midfield. The back four Domenech used against Costa Rica are likely to be his defense in South Africa, with Arsenal defender Bacary Sagna at right back, Barcelona's Eric Abidal alongside Gallas in the center, and Manchester United's Patrice Evra at left back.

The crowd gave the players a huge cheer when each name was read out, but Domenech was jeered, as was the case at every game during the qualifiers.

The French fans also gave a raucous and heartfelt rendition of the national anthem "La Marseillaise", a far cry from the groans, jeers, whistles and insults at Stade de France during the tense World Cup qualifiers.

Thierry Henry replaced Anelka at half time, with Domenech keeping the same formation.

Sagna missed a good headed chance early in the second half, Henry almost scored in the 58th when he ran onto Ribery's pass and clipped a shot wide of the post, and Gourcuff hit a powerful shot wide.

Valbuena came on with 25 minutes to go, and soon shot wide after cutting in from the right. Having adjusted his sights, he gathered a pass from Ribery and neatly slotted the ball into the left corner in the 83rd for the eventual winner.

Navas had made a superb point-blank save from Sebastien Squillaci with 20 minutes remaining as France wasted chances to put the game comfortably away.

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2010/05/26/france-beats-costa-rica-friendly/