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France reveal new-look line-up

2010-05-27 09:06
Newcomer Mathieu Valbuena is congratulated after scoring on debut. (AFP)
Lens - Mathieu Valbuena scored on his international debut as France beat Costa Rica 2-1 in a World Cup warm-up on Wednesday, with Raymond Domenech's team showing encouraging signs in a new attacking formation.

Domenech, who usually favours a cautious 4-2-3-1 lineup with Jeremy Toulalan and Lassana Diarra shielding the defense, switched to a 4-3-3 formation, dropping his usual two holding midfielders and picking Nicolas Anelka in attack.

"It shows what we're capable of doing, we've been telling the players to just go for it. We need to keep showing the same desire, the same panache," Domenech said. "Our attacking play was more encouraging, but (the system) poses problems defensively that we will have to address. We will need to be a bit stronger and solid, we shouldn't get carried away."

Valbuena's goal came after he hit a low shot past goalkeeper Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas in the 83rd minute after coming off the bench in the second half.

"I knew he would score," France defender Patrice Evra said of Valbuena. "There's something about him, he's one of those players."

Domenech, who called up the inexperienced Franck Ribery just before the 2006 World Cup, seems to have taken another clever gamble on the 25-year-old Valbuena, who was playing semi-professional football only four years ago.

"It's special for me. To be taking part in a World Cup is exceptional for any player, to come on and score is extraordinary," Valbuena said. "I got the ball through the middle, controlled it quickly and shot. When I saw it was in the back of net it was very emotional for me. Scoring for France is something special."

Domenech hopes Valbuena, a skillful winger who won the League title and League Cup with Marseille this season, can be the team's surprise package in South Africa.

"I hope he keeps it up. He plays to his strengths," Domenech said. "We told him to try things, take people on."

Carlos Hernandez gave Costa Rica the lead in the 12th minute with a low shot which bounced under the body of France goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

France equalized when Ribery's cross from the left deflected in off defender Douglas Sequeira.

Arsenal defender William Gallas played his first match since March 31 after recovering from a calf injury, and was replaced by Sebastien Squillaci at halftime.

Domenech plans to give Gallas more playing time in the next two friendly games before the World Cup match against Uruguay on June 11.

"I wasn't worried, the thing he needed was to play games," Domenech said. "Gallas needs to get his rhythm back little by little. (He will play) one hour on Sunday (against Tunisia) and 90 minutes against China."

In the 10th minute, Florent Malouda's pass cut through the Costa Rica defense and Sidney Govou forced a good save from Navas. Ribery made it 1-1 in the 22nd when Toulalan won the ball, advanced to edge of the area and slipped the ball to Ribery moving down the left, and Ribery's attempted pass deflected off Sequeira and rolled past Navas.

Mandanda redeemed himself somewhat midway through the first half with a fine tip-over save from Bryan Ruiz's curling shot, but France again showed a glaring weakness on set-pieces when Ruiz's header hit the crossbar in the 34th minute.

Bordeaux's Yoann Gourcuff and Chelsea's Florent Malouda were either side of Toulalan in a new midfield.

Fitness allowing, the back four Domenech used against Costa Rica are likely to be Domenech's defense in South Africa, with Arsenal defender Bacary Sagna at right back, Barcelona's Eric Abidal alongside Gallas in the center, and Manchester United's Patrice Evra at left back.

Thierry Henry replaced Anelka at half time in a straight swap, with Domenech keeping the same formation.

Sagna missed a good headed chance early in the second half, Henry almost scored in the 58th when he ran onto Ribery's pass and clipped a shot wide of the post, and Gourcuff hit one powerful shot wide.

Valbuena came on with 25 minutes to go, and soon shot wide after cutting in from the right. Having adjusted his sights, he gathered a pass from Ribery and neatly slotted the ball into the left corner in the 83rd.

Navas had made a superb point-blank save from Squillaci with 20 minutes remaining as France wasted chances.
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