Klinsmann's junior choice highlight old French problem

France 0 Germany 0
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The Independent Online

Thierry Henry said it felt more like a World Cup match than a friendly international. France and Germany treated each other with the utmost respect and caution here on Saturday night, but Jürgen Klinsmann will be the coach taking the greater encouragement following the last international of the year for both countries as they prepare for next summer's World Cup finals.

Coming less than 72 hours after France had flown 5,000 miles following their 3-2 victory over Costa Rica in Martinique, it was perhaps no surprise that Raymond Domenech's men produced a performance which matched his description of the heavy and uneven Stade de France pitch. "The surface wasn't worthy of a match at this level," the France coach protested after the game.

France created just two half-chances, scorned by Henry and David Trezeguet in either half, and Germany always looked the more threatening until Nicolas Anelka and Djibril Cissé, replacing the ineffective first-choice strikers, brought some urgency to the home team's play in the closing stages. Although France are now unbeaten in 17 matches under Domenech, his reign has been dogged - bizarrely considering the array of attacking talent at his disposal - by a shortage of goals.

Germany, in contrast, have had no trouble finding the net this year. While Klinsmann's team impressed again going forward here, they could take even greater pleasure from the way they carried out his game plan. The Germans, who had conceded at least two goals in seven successive internationals until they beat China last month, set out to isolate the French forwards by closing down on their defence and midfield and the tactic paid a handsome dividend.

France sorely missed the injured Zinedine Zidane and Patrick Vieira in midfield and all too often their back four were forced to hoof long balls downfield, which were no problem for Robert Huth and Per Mertesacker, Germany's impressive central defenders.

The injured Christoph Metzelder is regarded as Mertesacker's most likely partner at the heart of the German defence, but Huth, who has started only twice for Chelsea this season, made a strong case for his own inclusion.

At the other end of the pitch Sebastian Deisler was a constant threat down Germany's right wing until his departure at half-time with a badly gashed ankle. Michael Ballack, defying a sore thigh to bring assurance and authority on his return to the German midfield, provided a regular flow of defence-splitting passes and Klinsmann's men went close several times.

Lukas Podolski shot just over the bar after Deisler's surging run and cross, Grégory Coupet saved smartly from Bastian Schweinsteiger following Ballack's brilliant through ball and the German captain headed narrowly over from a free-kick.

Klinsmann, however, was rightly proud of his team's display. "This match has been hugely beneficial to us in terms of experience," he said. "France have a huge number of high-class players and we set out to stop them playing by closing down on their midfield.

"For young players like Huth and Mertesacker this was a golden opportunity," he added, "and they've made further progress."

For France, Trezeguet admitted: "We weren't in the right condition. The players were a bit tired playing three days after playing Costa Rica in Martinique. The state of the pitch didn't help."

It would have been a convincing argument had Trezeguet not stayed at home nursing a thigh injury. The Juventus striker, with 31 goals in 60 international appearances, has Michel Platini's international record of 41 strikes in his sights, but on this evidence his hopes - not to mention France's chances of success next summer - rest more than ever on the form and fitness of Zidane.

France (4-4-2): Coupet (Lyon); Reveillère (Lyon); Boumsong (Newcastle), Thuram (Juventus), Gallas (Chelsea); Sagnol (Bayern Munich), Makelele (Chelsea),

Dhorasoo (Paris St-Germain), Malouda (Lyon); Trezeguet (Juventus), Henry (Arsenal). Substitutes used: Anelka (Fenerbahce) for Henry, h/t; Cissé (Liverpool) for Trezeguet, 68; Rothen (Paris St-Germain) for Malouda, 68; Diarra (Lens) for Dhorasoo, 74.

Germany (4-4-2) Lehmann (Arsenal); Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), Huth (Chelsea), Mertesacker (Hannover 96), Jansen (Borussia Mönchengladbach); Deisler, Ballack, (both Bayern Munich), Frings (Werder Bremen), Schneider (Bayer Leverkusen); Podolski (Cologne), Klose (Werder Bremen). Substitutes used: Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich) for Deisler h/t; Borowski (Werder Bremen) for Schneider, 74; Kuranyi (Schalke 04) for Podolski, 82.

Referee: S Bennett (England).

Man of the match: Ballack.

Attendance: 58,889.

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