France got their World Cup 2010 qualifying campaign back on track as Franck Ribery’s superb strike secured a patient 1-0 win over Lithuania here on Saturday.
The visitors were made to toil for long periods amidst obdurate defending from the home side, but with 25 minutes to play Bayern Munich midfielder Ribery rifled in from distance to earn his side a precious victory on the road to South Africa.
“It was very important for us tonight and everyone played a huge part,” Ribery said.
“We worked hard, on a pitch that wasn’t easy to play on. Together we’ve managed to do something. Now it’s up to us to carry it on.”
The result eases the pressure on embattled coach Raymond Domenech, who had overseen a lacklustre start to France’s qualifying campaign in which they had won just one of their opening three matches.
Les Bleus remain third in European qualifying Group Seven, two points behind Lithuania and five behind Serbia – who won 3-2 in Romania – but with a game in hand on both.
“This team has something about it and the players say so: it’s being born, being constructed, being established,” Domenech said.
“The conditions were difficult. We took the long road, by freeing ourselves, by letting go and playing, despite the state of the pitch.”
Domenech sprang a surprise with his team selection, opting to field Paris Saint-Germain forward Peguy Luyindula and not Lyon hot-shot Karim Benzema in place of injured Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka.
Despite a poor, pock-marked playing surface, France settled into their stride quickly and Lithuania goalkeeper Zydrunas Karcemarskas was forced to block a low drive from Luyindula after he was brilliantly played in by Jeremy Toulalan.
France comfortably monopolised possession in the game’s opening stages and on-loan Bordeaux playmaker Yoann Gourcuff thumped an effort into Karcemarskas’s midriff from the edge of the hosts’ penalty area on 15 minutes.
Lithuania were penned back in their own half for long periods of the first period, but 10 minutes before the break midfielder Darvydas Sernas lashed a half-volley well over the bar from 18 yards following a left-wing corner.
The visitors continued to build their attacks patiently, with Toulalan’s thumping effort from Thierry Henry’s flick-on brilliantly blocked by Aruna Klimavicius before Karcemarskas raced from his line to deny Luyindula just prior to the break.
Luyindula spurned a clear opportunity to break the deadlock five minutes into the second 45 by over-running the ball after being set free by Toulalan, allowing Karcemarskas to come off his line and save at his feet.
Benzema entered the fray in place of Luyindula with half an hour to play and within minutes France went in front, as Ribery ripped a stunning left-footed effort past Karcemarskas from 22 yards after being teed up by Gourcuff.
“We really had some chances in the first half and at the beginning of the second half we wanted to score,” Ribery said.
“I called ‘Yoann’, he laid it off well, I hit it with my left, it went in and it’s an important goal for everyone.”
The confidence flooded back into France’s play, with Benzema and Henry both trying their luck from distance, before substitute Samir Nasri was thwarted by Karcemarskas after darting onto Henry’s clipped pass into the area.
The sides meet again in Paris on Wednesday.
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