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Henry, Anelka launch French football revival against Serbia

SoccerNews in Ligue 1, World Cup 10 Sep 2008

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Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka struck a goal apiece to help secure a crucial 2-1 victory for France over Serbia in their second Group 7 match of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup here on Wednesday.

Barcelona striker Henry opened the scoring in the 55th minute with second-half substitute Anelka producing a fine solo effort to grab France's second just after the hour.

Serbia scored inside the last quarter hour when Branislav Ivanovic rose to head home from a corner.

After a stunning 3-1 defeat to Austria last weekend, France and their enigmatic coach Raymond Domenech have been under huge pressure to win the hearts and minds of fans, especially in the wake of crashing out of the Euro 2008 at the group stage.

The French flair which has accompanied 'Les Bleus' in previous tournaments was conspicuously amiss but the look on Domenech's face could not betray his feeling of relief.

“The players reacted well to the challenge set for them,” admitted the 56-year-old, who admitted on Tuesday he was relieved the guillotine was not still in use given the calls for his head since the Austria defeat.

“The quality of football was there and looks promising for the future.

“I think the players and the spectators tonight had a good rapport.”

Henry, scorer of France's only goal at the Euro finals earlier this year, admitted that the result was more important than the performance.

“It was crucial above all else to get the three points this evening, which we achieved,” said the Barcelona striker.

“However, we should be judged on the pitch and not on paper.”

Serbian coach Radomir Antic said there had been two clear handballs which were not punished but admitted that Anelka's pace had posed them serious problems in the second-half.

“We played really well for the first half-an-hour,” confessed the former Atletico Madrid coach.

“However, we played less well at the end of the match. Anelka's speed caused us problems from the moment he entered the fray.”

France went in for the half time interval with some tweaking to do after failing to capitalise on several first half chances, while revealing a few cracks in their already shaky defence.

After a nervous opening 10 minutes Lyon striker Karim Benzema promptly fluffed a great chance to score after a nice one-two with Henry, who then forced Serbia keeper Vladimir Stojkovic into evasive action after heading a looping cross towards goal.

Pacy defender Gael Clichy then did well on the left flank but his rapid-fire cross into the box, where three forwards were loitering, went begging when Govou fluffed a first-time effort.

At the other end, the outstretched hand of France keeper Steve Mandanda bravely grabbed the ball from near the feet of Marko Pantelic after a threatening pass from Bosko Jankovic.

Four minutes later Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic got a free header from a corner but saw his effort go high and wide.

Anelka replaced Benzema at half time but it was Henry who brought an end to the whistles and jeers beginning to permeate the stadium at the start of the second period.

Govou did well to draw a few defenders around him just inside the area before side-footing the ball to Henry who then beat Stojkovic with a shot from the outside of his right boot to claim France's 100th goal at the Stade.

Anelka then sent the hosts into raptures when he held off a two-man defensive challenge barely 10 minutes later to wrong-foot the Serbian keeper with a low drive into the corner.

Serbia upped the tempo in the closing stages, and their goal was wholly deserved, Ivanovic rising well amid the French defence to head the ball down and up into the net beyond Mandanda from a corner.

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