France’s campaign to qualify for Euro 2012 began in disappointing fashion on Friday as they lost 1-0 to Belarus in Laurent Blanc’s first competitive game in charge.
Missing a raft of influential players, France struggled to procure clear sights of goal and were undone in the 86th minute when substitute Sergei Kislyak netted the winner from Vyacheslav Hleb’s cutback.
“The problem is scoring goals and we haven’t got players who are used to scoring goals,” said Blanc, whose side left the pitch to the familiar sound of jeers from the home fans.
“But there were some things in our approach play that pleased me.”
The hosts largely controlled the game but there was a palpable lack of creativity in attacking areas that frustrated Blanc’s hopes of banishing memories of the World Cup debacle with a rousing performance.
“We’ve created a sensation,” said Belarus coach Bernd Stange.
“The first 10 minutes we started badly, we were a bit scared. But we weren’t lucky. We deserve this victory.”
With key creative players Yoann Gourcuff, Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri either suspended or injured, Blanc opted for a 4-4-2 system and handed the captain’s armband to Chelsea winger Florent Malouda for the first time.
There were 74,000 fans at the Stade de France, despite the anger provoked by events at the World Cup, but the home side began with a timorousness that was perhaps understandable given the lack of international experience in the team.
Malouda and Jeremy Menez, the two wide men, were both guilty of dropping too deep and playing too narrowly, with strikers Guillaume Hoarau and Loic Remy subsequently starved of service.
Set-pieces initially proved more productive territory than the slick football Blanc wants the team to adopt and Remy stooped to head a left-wing corner narrowly wide of the back post in the 17th minute.
Remy was forced off 10 minutes before the break after falling awkwardly and his replacement, Mathieu Valbuena, brought some welcome spark to the French attack.
The presence of an extra attacking midfielder enabled France to establish a foothold in Belarusian territory and Malouda, Menez and the precocious Yann M’Vila all tested goalkeeper Yury Zhevnov with shots from distance.
Belarus defended in numbers and in the meandering dribbles of Alexander Hleb and the forceful running of his younger brother, Vyacheslav, they gave France the occasional discomfiting moment.
Vitali Rodionov could have put the visitors ahead early in the second half but he snatched at the chance and put the ball well wide after ghosting into the penalty area.
Gradually, France imposed themselves sufficiently to keep Belarus penned deep inside their half for long periods.
Malouda headed at Zhevnov, Hoarau rose to head the ball over the bar and Valbuena almost caught Zhevnov off his line with an enterprising lob that the Zenit Saint Petersburg shot-stopper palmed over.
Blanc stiffened his attack by introducing Louis Saha for the disappointing Menez but he only lasted a matter of minutes before succumbing to a thigh injury that saw him replaced by debutant Kevin Gameiro.
It was a cruel blow for the Everton man, and worse was to follow for France when Vyacheslav Hleb darted to the byline before calmly teeing up the unmarked Kislyak to place the ball into the roof of the net.
France play away against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Tuesday.
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