Domenech suffers China crisis as misfiring France slump to defeat

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The Independent Football

France 0-1 China

The poor form of Raymond Domenech's side in the run-up to the World Cup finals continued last night as they were beaten by China, ranked just 84 in the world.

The French drew with Tunisia and only beat Costa Rica 2-1 recently and marked their first appearance on the French Indian Ocean island of Réunion with a lacklustre display where they rarely looked like scoring.

However, Domenech refused to be downhearted. "I think we are improving," the highly criticised coach insisted. "We created a lot more chances than we did in our last two games. I'm not saying it was perfect but it was better.

"Having lost will force us to be more careful, more inspired and to work harder."

Domenech fielded the same team that had started the previous two matches, which meant that Thierry Henry was again on the bench. They started brightly but the best chance the French carved out in the first half-hour was a Yoann Gourcuff drive which China goalkeeper Zeng Cheng comfortably saved.

William Gallas, who shook off the illness that stopped him training on Wednesday, then had a couple of headers go narrowly wide. China had scarcely featured as an attacking force but took the lead in the 68th minute through Deng Zhuoxiang's 30-yard floated free-kick.

Les Bleus tried desperately to find the equaliser and three minutes later Sidney Govou saw his shot blocked by Zeng but only as far as Henry, who also fired straight at the China goalkeeper.

In a frantic finale France laid siege to the Chinese goal but lacked the composure to equalise. That was typified in the fifth minute of stoppage time when Gourcuff's free-kick arrived at the far post. Henry flicked it on for Gallas but the Arsenal defender failed to turn the ball in.

Slovenia 3-1 New Zealand

Slovenia, who are in England's group, beat fellow World Cup finalists New Zealand in Maribor last night, with all the goals coming in the first half.

Striker Milivoje Novakovic gave the home side the lead after seven minutes, only for Plymouth Argyle's Rory Fallon to hit back for New Zealand.

Novakovic, who plays for Cologne in the Bundesliga, got his second in the 30th minute and winger Andraz Kirm made it 3-1 on the stroke of half-time.