Rebels make low-key return as France go clear

Reuters

Fri, 25 Mar 23:27:00 2011

* Mexes and Gourcuff send France four points clear

* Evra, Ribery booed by own fans on France return (Writes through with quotes)

France cruised into a four-point lead at the top of Euro 2012 qualifying Group D with a 2-0 victory over Luxembourg as World Cup rebels Patrice Evra and Franck Ribery made a low-key return on Friday.

Les Bleus, who won with a goal in each half from Philippe Mexes and Yoann Gourcuff, now have 12 points from five games, ahead of Belarus, who visit third-placed Albania on Saturday.

Fullback Evra and forward Ribery got bans of five and three games respectively for their roles last year in South Africa where France players went on strike to support Nicolas Anelka who was sent home for insulting then coach Raymond Domenech.

The pair started Friday's match at the tiny Josy Barthel stadium after being booed by 2,000 French fans who had crossed the border and they made low-key comebacks in a dull game.

"They were subdued, just like the rest of the team," France coach Laurent Blanc told a news conference.

"They were a bit shaky (at the beginning). Then it got better. But they did not have the best preparation," he added, referring to the news conferences both players held earlier this week to discuss the World Cup farce all over again.

CAPTAIN NASRI

With France captain Alou Diarra on the bench, Samir Nasri was given the skipper's armband and started as the playmaker with Gourcuff as the holding midfielder.

Nasri and Gourcuff switched positions midway through the first half as France struggled to outwit the Luxembourg defence.

"We were not exactly brilliant," said Blanc. "But I did not expect a great game so I am not disappointed. What matters is victory and the three points that go with it."

Things did not change much after the tactical switch although Nasri did deliver a perfect freekick into the box for Mexes to head home in the 28th minute.

Florent Malouda and Karim Benzema then went close to a second goal before halftime.

France scored again 18 minutes from time when Gourcuff volleyed in a Ribery cross that had been deflected by a Luxembourg defender.

Les Bleus next host Croatia in a friendly on Tuesday.

 

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