Stylish Benzema leads Les Bleus to victory
By R. Thomson
A backheel assist for Franck Ribéry followed by a brace of his own saw Karim Benzema lay the foundations for France's comfortable 4-0 win over Estonia in Le Mans on Tuesday in their final warm-up match for Euro 2012.
After victories over Iceland, 3-2, and Serbia 2-0, France ended their pre-Euro warm-up matches with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Estonia. Ribéry and Benzema sent a clear warning to Group D opponents England, Ukraine and Sweden with an ominous attacking display. Benzema netting twice, either side of half-time - the first a stunning curling effort from a tight angle - after laying on the first for Ribéry midway through the opening period. Substitute Jérémy Ménez completed the scoring in stoppage time with his first international goal.
Nasri back in the middle
Ahead of kick-off, France coach Laurent Blanc made no secret of his desire to use the Estonia match as a full dress rehearsal for his side's opening Euro 2012 clash versus England. He continued with his preferred 4-3-3 formation with Alou Diarra in the holding role in midfield. In the only minor surprise, Samir Nasri, who impressed in the wide right position of Les Bleus' attacking trident versus Serbia, returned to a central midfield role, which saw Florent Malouda move back to his preferred position on the left wing.
France were slow out of the blocks and needed Olympique Lyonnais 'keeper Hugo Lloris to be alert in the opening minutes at the MMArena, however, it was a moment of magic midway through the first-half that broke the deadlock. Benzema and Ribéry combined on the edge of the area with a rapid fire one-two - the former releasing the latter with an intelligent backheel chip - and Ribéry made no mistake with a crisp low finish to net his third goal in as many pre-Euro 2012 friendlies.
Benzema ensured Les Bleus took a 2-0 lead into the half-time break with a spectacular second. The former OL man peeled off deep from a corner, inherited possession and curled a right-foot effort that crashed in off Pereiko's left-hand upright.
Barely a minute into the second half and Ribéry returned the favour to his forward partner Benzema - laying on the third goal with a pin-point cross that left the Real Madrid striker with a simple tap in for his 15th international goal.
Koscielny in defensive midfield
With the game safely in the bag, Blanc continued to test new combinations with Olympique de Marseille winger Mathieu Valbuena coming on for his first minutes of the preparation campaign. He replaced Cabaye after just five second-half minutes which saw Malouda move back centrally - this time alongside Nasri and Diarra.
With doubt still hanging over the fitness of Yann M'Vila and Blaise Matuidi for the England opener, Blanc decided to test Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny in a defensive midfield role for the last 15 minutes. Diarra made way and immediately applied ice to his knee after receiving a first-half knock.
Ménez opens international account
Ligue 1 Golden Boot Olivier Giroud had laid on both late goals against Iceland and he again showed great awareness in the box in injury time, as he provided another assist for fellow substitute Ménez to side-foot home after a Patrice Evra raid down the left.
The 4-0 result sees France extend their unbeaten run to 20 matches, as they prepare for their opening Euro 2012 clash in Group D against England on 11 June.
FRANCE: Lloris; Debuchy, Rami, Mexès, Evra; Cabaye (Valbuena 51), Diarra (Koscielny 65), Nasri (Ben Arfa 73); Ribéry (Martin 65), Benzema (Ménez 73) , Malouda (Giroud 73)