France impress in win over Netherlands

France might have only just scraped through to the World Cup finals in Brazil but they showed on Wednesday night in their comfortable 2-0 win over the Netherlands that they could be a force to be reckoned with in the Summer.

France impress in win over Netherlands
The French team line up before their impressive win over World Cup runners up Holland. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

An impressive France proved too strong for the Netherlands in Paris on Wednesday as first-half goals from Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi sealed a 2-0 friendly win.

Benzema volleyed home the opener just after the half-hour mark and Matuidi added another three minutes before the interval, and the visitors never really looked like coming back into the game as they slumped to a first defeat in 19 matches.

For France, it was a satisfying evening as they picked up where they left off in beating Ukraine 3-0 in dramatic fashion to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil in November's play-off.

"Pleased with the result, the nature of the performance and the general attitude," was coach Didier Deschamps' summing up of the game.

"It was not the same context as November but the desire was the same. It doesn't mean we go from being outsiders for the World Cup to favourites but it was important to maintain the positive dynamic."

In contrast, Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal would appear to have work to do on his side ahead of this year's World Cup, particularly in defence.

"We were well organised in the first 25 minutes but lost our heads a little bit after the first goal," said the 62-year-old.

"We were better in the second half, but come the World Cup we will need to concentrate fully for 90 minutes in every match."

As expected in what was the last friendly match before both coaches name their provisional World Cup squads in May, there was an experimental air to the two line-ups.

Deschamps made two changes to the team that had beaten Ukraine, with Eliaquim Mangala of Porto starting in central defence and uncapped Real Sociedad winger Antoine Griezmann being handed his chance on the left flank, usually the home of Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery.

Van Gaal left out Bayern's other star winger Arjen Robben as he opted to blood wingers Jean-Paul Boetius of Feyenoord and Quincy Promes of FC Twente.

They looked lively in the opening exchanges, but France appeared confident and soon started to exert their authority.

Benzema was unlucky to see an effort from point-blank range blocked on the line by Ron Vlaar at the end of a flowing move involving Mathieu Valbuena and Griezmann and then had the ball in the net, only for a tight offside call from the English assistant referee to cut short his celebrations.

The visitors replied with a Robin van Persie volley that was beaten away by Hugo Lloris in the France goal following a Wesley Sneijder corner, but the hosts went on to break the deadlock in the 32nd minute.

France expose Dutch defence

There have been major concerns about the fragility of Van Gaal's Dutch defence, and France frequently sought to catch them out with balls over the top.

That tactic paid off when Matuidi's lofted pass forward took Daley Blind out of the game and the ball bounced perfectly for Benzema, who lashed an emphatic right-footed volley past the despairing dive of Jasper Cillessen and into the net for his 19th international goal.

The second goal arrived three minutes before the break, and Benzema was involved again, his pass releasing Valbuena on the right before the Marseille playmaker crossed to the back post for Matuidi, whose acrobatic finish gave Cillessen no chance and saw him break his international goalscoring duck.

Mangala then missed a great chance to make it 3-0 just before the interval, failing to convert a Benzema cutback from practically on the line with the Dutch defence increasingly looking in disarray, but the visitors survived until half-time.

However, they never really threatened in a second half lacking in rhythm but which was at least livened up by the introduction of Ribery, who forced one save from Cillessen after replacing Valbuena on 63 minutes.

Raphael Varane headed over when unmarked eight yards out following a corner kick, but France eased to their first win against the Netherlands since 1997.

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France plans to keep growing women’s game after World Cup disappointment

France faces the challenge of continuing to develop women's football after the bitter disappointment of elimination from the World Cup by the United States.

France plans to keep growing women's game after World Cup disappointment
France players after the defeat against USA. Photo: AFP

“Back to Earth” was how sports daily L'Equipe put it after the host nation lost 2-1 to the holders in a quarter-final played out before a feverish crowd in Paris.

L'Equipe talked of “the disappointment of a shattered adventure” because coach Corinne Diacre's team had dreamt of emulating the men, World Cup winners in Russia last year and also winners as hosts in 1998.

The team had been desperate to make it to Lyon, where the semi-finals and final will be played and where seven of those who featured for France on Friday play their club football for Europe's top side.

Instead, France find themselves out of a fifth straight major tournament in the quarter-finals. To rub salt into the wounds, Friday's defeat had the knock-on effect of denying them a place at next year's Olympics.

Diacre had been set the objective of reaching the final, which always looked a daunting challenge once the draw raised the likelihood of an early meeting with the USA.

Amid the dejection on Friday, Diacre stated her wish to continue, and on Saturday French Football Federation (FFF) President Noel Le Graet confirmed she would stay.

“She will be in charge until the end of her contract, if not longer,” Le Graet told AFP.

That means until Euro 2021 in England at least, and the aim in France is to keep developing the women's game to give them a chance of one day going all the way.

The FFF hope the number of registered female players will reach 200,000 next year, an increase of almost 10 percent from present figures, but far from the two million registered male players.

They have also promised to invest 15 million euros into a post-World Cup “legacy” fund.

The interest in the women's game is there, as shown by television audiences during the World Cup, with 11.8 million watching the USA game on terrestrial TV.

However, translating that to an increased following in the women's domestic league will be a bigger challenge.

France games have drawn sell-out crowds at the World Cup, but in general attendances in domestic competition are modest at best, even if almost 26,000 saw powerhouses Lyon beat closest rivals Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year.

“We cannot go from so much enthusiasm now to league matches on poor pitches with only 120 fans,” said Le Graet. “We all need to make an effort and we will.”

Matches are televised, but like elsewhere income remains light years from rights deals in the men's game — a new sponsorship contract for the 12-club top flight with chemicals company Arkema is worth one million euros per season for three years.

Average salaries are reportedly around 3,500 euros per month, although stars like Amandine Henry and Wendie Renard are believed to earn almost 10 times that at Lyon, who have won the Champions League in the last four years. Again, those sums are dwarfed by the wages often on offer to the men.

“We need to keep putting money in, keep professionalising, because other countries are doing it and maybe that's why they are ahead of us,” warned Lyon and France forward Eugenie Le Sommer.

“We have a good league but unfortunately not every team is professional.

“There are countries who are ahead of us and we must catch up. Even Spain are putting lots of money in and we need to make sure we are not left behind.”

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