First-half burst helps France see off Dutch
An impressive France proved too strong for the Netherlands in Paris on Wednesday as first-half goals from Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi sealed a 2-0 friendly win.
Benzema volleyed home the opener just after the half-hour mark and Matuidi added another three minutes before the interval, and the visitors never really looked like coming back into the game as they slumped to a first defeat in 19 matches.
For France, it was a satisfying evening as they picked up where they left off in beating Ukraine 3-0 in dramatic fashion to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil in November's play-off.
"Pleased with the result, the nature of the performance and the general attitude," was coach Didier Deschamps' summing up of the game.
"It was not the same context as November but the desire was the same. It doesn't mean we go from being outsiders for the World Cup to favourites but it was important to maintain the positive dynamic."
In contrast, Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal would appear to have work to do on his side ahead of this year's World Cup, particularly in defence.
"We were well organised in the first 25 minutes but lost our heads a little bit after the first goal," said the 62-year-old.
"We were better in the second half, but come the World Cup we will need to concentrate fully for 90 minutes in every match."
As expected in what was the last friendly match before both coaches name their provisional World Cup squads in May, there was an experimental air to the two line-ups.
Deschamps made two changes to the team that had beaten Ukraine, with Eliaquim Mangala of Porto starting in central defence and uncapped Real Sociedad winger Antoine Griezmann being handed his chance on the left flank, usually the home of Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery.
Van Gaal left out Bayern's other star winger Arjen Robben as he opted to blood wingers Jean-Paul Boetius of Feyenoord and Quincy Promes of FC Twente.
They looked lively in the opening exchanges, but France appeared confident and soon started to exert their authority.
Benzema was unlucky to see an effort from point-blank range blocked on the line by Ron Vlaar at the end of a flowing move involving Mathieu Valbuena and Griezmann and then had the ball in the net, only for a tight offside call from the English assistant referee to cut short his celebrations.
The visitors replied with a Robin van Persie volley that was beaten away by Hugo Lloris in the France goal following a Wesley Sneijder corner, but the hosts went on to break the deadlock in the 32nd minute.
- France expose Dutch defence -
There have been major concerns about the fragility of Van Gaal's Dutch defence, and France frequently sought to catch them out with balls over the top.
That tactic paid off when Matuidi's lofted pass forward took Daley Blind out of the game and the ball bounced perfectly for Benzema, who lashed an emphatic right-footed volley past the despairing dive of Jasper Cillessen and into the net for his 19th international goal.
The second goal arrived three minutes before the break, and Benzema was involved again, his pass releasing Valbuena on the right before the Marseille playmaker crossed to the back post for Matuidi, whose acrobatic finish gave Cillessen no chance and saw him break his international goalscoring duck.
Mangala then missed a great chance to make it 3-0 just before the interval, failing to convert a Benzema cutback from practically on the line with the Dutch defence increasingly looking in disarray, but the visitors survived until half-time.
However, they never really threatened in a second half lacking in rhythm but which was at least livened up by the introduction of Ribery, who forced one save from Cillessen after replacing Valbuena on 63 minutes.
Raphael Varane headed over when unmarked eight yards out following a corner kick, but France eased to their first win against the Netherlands since 1997.
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