Martins fills the Cantona role

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The Independent Online
Belgium 0 France 2

The arrogant ease with which France dismissed Belgium in a friendly here last night suggested that not only is this a team which Eric Cantona is going to struggle to break into but it is one which, for all its lack of household names, must stand a great chance when the serious business of Euro 96 gets underway.

Cantona's absence from the French team, and to a lesser extent that of David Ginola, may seem inexplicable to students of the English Premiership. Not so in their native land, where a wealth of exciting forwards have come on in recent months.

The opportunity was certainly there for Aime Jacquet, the French coach, to bring the team's former captain back for what would have been his first international for 14 months. Youri Djorkaeff, the Paris St Germain midfielder, was out with injury, and Zinedine Zidane, the Bordeaux striker, was only fit enough to take a place on the bench. These two have been the stars of France's resurgence over the last few years.

When Marcel Desailly of Milan and Strasbourg's Franck Leboeuf withdrew from the squad at the beginning of the week, there was even more scope for Jacquet to try something new, or rather something old. But while he says he has not ruled Cantona out of Euro 96, he had a Cantona-esque role to fill against the Belgians, but instead chose to offer the job to Corentin Martins of Auxerre, playing just behind a lone striker, Christophe Dugarry of Bordeaux.

The bad news for Cantona was that the agile and imaginative Martins soon stood out as the French broke in smooth waves towards the Belgian goal, and with 19 minutes gone he came the closest to making a first-half breakthrough with a swerving shot which Filip De Wilde dived at uncertainly and was fortunate to see bounce to safety off his body. The French defence was living dangerously at times, but the speed with which they recovered was impressive.

The tempo was being dictated entirely by the French, and they picked up the pace at the start of the second half when De Wilde was repeatedly exposed. A sparse crowd in the Stad Roi Baudouin came briefly to life when Michael Goossens shot against Bernard Lama's legs in the 62nd minute, but four minutes later France went ahead. Martins pierced the Belgians' cover with a well-timed run, and when he crossed Phillippe Albert headed into his own net.

France's second, in the 72nd minute, was a lovely solo effort by Lamouchi, who sped 40 yards before rounding De Wilde.

BELGIUM (4-1-3-2): De Wilde (Anderlecht); Genaux (Standard Liege), Renier (Club Bruges), Medved (Club Bruges), Smidts (Antwerp); Albert (Newcastle United); Peiremans (Anderlecht), Scifo (Monaco), Boffin (Anderlecht); Degryse (Sheffield Wednesday), Oliveira (Cagliari). Substitutes: Verjans (Club Bruges) for Medved, h-t, Goossens (Standard Liege) for Degryse, h-t.

FRANCE (4-2-3-1): Lama (Paris St-Germain); Thuram (Monaco), Roche (Paris St-Germain), Blanc (Auxerre), Di Meco (Monaco); Karembeu (Sampdoria) (Pouget, 79), Deschamps (Juventus); Lamouchi (Auxerre), Martins (Auxerre), Pedros (Nantes); Dugarry (Bordeaux). Substitutes: Laigle (Lens) for Pedros h- t, Pouget (Metz) for Karembeu, 79), Angloma (Torino) for Thurum, h-t).

Referee: F Stuchlik (Austria).