Valbuena leads France charge to Italy win
By D. Crossan
Mathieu Valbuena scored an outstanding goal as France scored a superb 2-1 friendly win over Euro 2012 runners-up Italy in Parma.
Italy 1-2 France
Valbuena had looked France's most threatening player even before scoring a magnificent 37th-minute goal to cancel out Stephan El-Shaarawy's opener scored two minutes previously. OM playmaker Valbuena carried on where he'd left off as an influential substitute in the 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Spain in Madrid last month and his third international goal was one that will live long in the memory.
Collecting the ball wide on the left near the by-line, Valbuena tricked his way past Marco Verratti and Andrea Barzagli before curling an unstoppable right-footed shot in to the top corner of Salvatore Sirigu's net. The PSG goalkeeper, winning his fourth cap, stood no chance despite the acute angle Valbuena faced.
France skipper Hugo Lloris had suffered a scare in the 10th minute when Mario Balotelli hit the angle of post and bar from just outside the area after a neat lay-off from El-Shaarawy. Balotelli and Ricardo Montolivo were excellent in the build-up to El-Shaarawy's goal, the Italian-Egyptian stroking the ball beyond Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Lloris to give Cesare Prandelli's side the lead.
Neither keeper had a huge amount to do in the first half, although the pace of the Italian front pair Balotelli and El-Shaarawy always needed close surveillance, while Blaise Matuidi showed up well in the visiting midfield.
Gomis first since 2008
Matuidi's 20-year-old PSG team-mate Verratti, winning his second cap, was withdrawn five minutes into the second period, replaced by the old master Andrea Pirlo. Didier Deschamps threw on fresh legs with Franck Ribéry and Olivier Giroud withdrawn, making way for Jérémy Ménez and Bafétimbi Gomis.
Both were involved in France's second goal on 67 minutes as Les Bleus picked up in quality as the match wore on. Adding directness to France's attacking efforts, Ménez played a terrific exchange of passes with left-back Patrice Evra, whose low cross-shot was turned into the unguarded net from close range by Gomis for the Olympique Lyonnais forward's first international goal since netting a spectacular double against Ecuador on debut ahead of Euro 2008.
Gourcuff comeback, Trémoulinas debut
Yoann Gourcuff made his France comeback after six months out of the international reckoning when Valbuena was subbed inside the final 20 minutes. Italy sub Allesandro Diamanti whipped in a vicious left-footed shot which Laurent Koscielny did well to glance behind. Lloris made a fine save from Italy sub Giovinco with time ticking down and Koscielny blocked from Balotelli.
After running half the length of the field, Ménez was denied by the feet of Sirigu, his fellow PSG man. But France enjoyed a huge let-off when Emmanuele Giacherini's shot hit the underside of the bar and bounced out. Bordeaux's Benoît Trémoulinas made his international debut in stoppage time on another highly satisfactory evening for Deschamps and France.