France pass test of character to vindicate Blanc's emerging belief

France 2 Romania 0

Are you watching, Raymond Domenech? The coach who presided over France's shambolic World Cup campaign does not have much else to do these days – he has reported to an unemployment office while seeking compensation for his dismissal – and must have been struck by the quality of his former charges' performance here on Saturday night.

France could have lost this European Championship qualifying match during a nervous spell midway through the second half, but the spirit they showed in scoring two late goals, as well as the generally high standard of their play, belied their place at No 27 in the Fifa world rankings – the lowest in the country's history.

Under Domenech, France failed to win a match in South Africa and returned in disgrace, the players having gone on strike during a training session in sympathy with Nicolas Anelka, who had been sent home after abusing the coach. However, the feeling remained that, individually, the players still had plenty to offer. All it required was a coach who had not lost the confidence and respect of his men. Step forward Laurent Blanc, a World Cup winner in 1998 and a French title winner as a coach with Bordeaux.

After a shaky start – a friendly loss against Norway was followed by a home defeat against Belarus in their opening European Championship qualifier – Blanc's team are coming good. Following victory away to Bosnia and Blanc's first home win here, France go into their next match against Luxembourg in Metz tomorrow as group leaders.

"We're starting to create something, it's starting to bear fruit," Blanc said. "There will be difficult times ahead. Qualifying is long, but for now we're going to savour this."

Florent Malouda agreed. "There is a deep change but it's only the beginning," the Chelsea midfielder said of the Blanc regime. "We said after the Bosnia game that we were able to play well."

So far, Blanc has had to do without Anelka, Patrice Evra and Franck Ribéry, who were given suspensions of 18, five and three matches respectively following the South African debacle, yet he still has plenty of talent at his disposal, especially in midfield – an area that is so often the major strength of French teams.

Alou Diarra – who may well become Blanc's long-term captain after being given the armband for a second time here – and Yann M'Vila are highly effective holding midfielders, while there is an embarras de richesses going forward. Samir Nasri started in the hole behind Karim Benzema before being replaced by Yoann Gourcuff, while Abou Diaby should be in contention to face Luxembourg after recovering from an ankle injury.

Benzema's display was in contrast to some of his apparently disinterested performances for Real Madrid. As he demonstrated with some of his smirking and monosyllabic replies at a press conference the day before the match – you wondered whether Blanc had sent him to meet the media in punishment for reporting late for duty – the 22-year-old striker is clearly a difficult player to handle.

However, there can be no doubting the former Lyons striker's talent. He led the line with authority, linking particularly well with Nasri, and played with a responsibility and commitment that will have impressed Blanc. But for the excellence of Cristian Chivu, Romania's one world-class player, Benzema would surely have added to his tally of nine goals for his country.

Instead it was left to Loic Rémy and Gourcuff to provide the finishing touches. Remy's goal was a beauty, the young Marseilles striker shooting inside the far post after a wonderful through ball by Diarra, and he should have added a second when he headed over from close range after a Malouda cross. Gourcuff provided the final flourish, capitalising on a fine run by Dimitri Payet.

"The team did not give up," Blanc said. "They always believed they could win. I liked this spirit. It was a tough match. We didn't create really clear chances in the first half because Romania were well-organised and proved solid. I told my players a game wasn't finished after 60 minutes and that it wasn't forbidden to win it in the final 10 minutes."

Rémy, Gourcuff and Payet had all come on as substitutes when France started to lose their nerve after failing to make their superiority tell. Romania, who created little in the first half and spent most of the match on the retreat, had several opportunities in the second, the best of them falling to Ionut Sapunaru, whose shot cannoned against a post.

Blanc's one major concern may be in defence. Saturday's back four not only lacked experience – Philippe Mexès was the only player with more than 10 caps – but also looked short of pace through the middle. France could do with a central defender who reads the game well enough to sniff out danger before it arrives – someone just like Laurent Blanc in fact.

France (4-2-3-1): Lloris (Lyons); Réveillère (Lyons), Rami (Lille), Mexès (Roma), Clichy (Arsenal); A Diarra (Bordeaux), M'Vila (Rennes); Valbuena (Marseilles; Rémy, Marseille, 68), Nasri (Arsenal; Gourcuff, Lyons, 73), Malouda (Chelsea); Benzema (Real Madrid; Payet, Saint Étienne 87). Substitutes not used: Mandanda (gk; Marseilles), Sakho, Hoarau (both Paris Saint-Germain), L Diarra (Real Madrid).

Booked A Diarra, Mexes.

Romania (4-4-2): Pantilimon (Timisoara); Sapunaru (Porto), Tamas (West Bromwich Albion), Chivu (Internazionale), Rat (Shakhtar Donetsk); Cocis (Al-Nasr), Radoi (Al-Hilal), Florescu (Alania Vladikavkaz), Zicu (Timisoara; Deac, Schalke, h-t); Niculae (Monaco; sub: Marica, Stuttgart, 63), Stancu (Steaua Bucharest). Substitutes not used: Lobont (gk; Roma), Bilasco (Steaua Bucharest), Radu (Lazio), Maftei (Unirea Urziceni). Booked Sapunaru, Florescu.

Man of the match A Diarra.

Possession France 58% Romania 42%

Shots on target France 9 Romania 1

Referee P Proenca (Portugal). Attendance 79,299. Match rating 7/10.



Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'