International friendly: France 0 Uruguay 0

16 August 2012 00:55

Didier Deschamps’ first match in charge of France ended in a tame 0-0 friendly draw against Uruguay in Le Havre.

Each of the three previous meetings between the sides had finished goalless, so there was little hope for an exciting encounter heading into this clash, with the first-half living up to those expectations at Stade Oceane.

The game sparked into life after the interval, but neither side was able to find a winning goal, with France striker Karim Benzema going closest as he hit the post.

The opening period was less than eventful, with France dominating play but struggling to find a path through a packed visiting defence. Indeed, they fashioned only one opening of note, but Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa’s header proved little more than an awkward block for Fernando Muslera.

There would be significantly more excitement after the break, though the South Americans were largely content to play on the counter-attack.

Mathieu Valbuena was lively for the hosts and four minutes after the restart he was set up by substitute Etienne Capoue’s accurate pass, though his finish was too close to Muslera to seriously trouble the goalkeeper.

On the hour mark, Les Bleus went even closer. A lofted ball forward picked out Benzema at the edge of the box, but the Real Madrid man saw a wonderfully executed, side-foot volley come back off the post.

If there was not a flurry of chances for the home side, there was certainly a steadier stream of opportunities, with Ribery’s deft chip exciting the crowd before dropping just too high.

Shortly afterwards, Bafetimbi Gomis sent a shot from range skidding towards goal, only for Muslera to deny the substitute.

While Uruguay’s approach was rather negative, the fourth-placed side on the FIFA rankings were not entirely subdued as an attacking force. At times Cristian Rodriguez drove forwards from the midfield with real purpose, and did deliver a wonderful cross that Sebastian Abreu contrived to send straight into the hands of French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, when he should have scored.

A goalless draw looked likely for large periods of the contest, but France did push for a winner until the final whistle. Jimmy Briand had a good chance from a Valbuena cross and Gomis should have done better in stoppage time when well placed, but their misses ensured Deschamps’ national managerial debut ended in a stalemate.

International friendly: Belgium 4 Netherlands 2

16 August 2012 00:45

Dries Mertens played a vital role as Belgium defeated the Netherlands 4-2 in their international friendly in Brussels.

Christian Benteke gave the hosts the lead before the break, but two goals within as many minutes from Luciano Narsingh and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar helped the Dutch to a 2-1 lead early in the second half.

However, goals from Mertens and Romelu Lukaku got the home crowd back on their feet. Jan Vertonghen then poured even more salt in Holland’s wounds in the 80th minute.

Both sides created plenty of danger early on, with Vertonghen unleashing a powerful strike for the Belgians, while Arjen Robben and Rafael van der Vaart looked dangerous for the Dutch.

Nevertheless, the fans had to wait until the 20th minute for the first big chance of the game, and it immediately resulted in the opener.

The Dutch defence allowed Kevin Mirallas too much space down the left wing, and the attacker cut inside before unleashing a low shot that bounced off John Heitinga. Benteke calmly controlled the loose ball, and evaded Joris Mathijsen’s challenge before firing home.

Holland then took over the initiative and came close to levelling the scoring after 28 minutes. Narsingh set up Ricardo van Rhijn with a fine low cross, but shot-stopper Thibaut Courtois showed his class with a superb save to prevent the equaliser.

The on-loan Atletico Madrid goalkeeper was again called into action shortly after, this time when Huntelaar tried his luck from inside the box after some good work from Narsingh. However, Courtois once more impressed with a good reflex stop.

There was little Courtois could do about the equaliser shortly after the interval, though. Bruno Martins Indi found Robben with a superb pass down the left, with the latter then sending in a low cross for Narsingh, who tapped home from close range.

Belgium did not have too much time to recover from conceding, as the guests were celebrating once more in the 55th minute, and Martins Indi and Robben were again at the heart of it. The Feyenoord defender set up the Bayern star with an intelligent pass, who then unselfishly squared to Huntelaar. The Schalke star had no trouble finding the empty net from close range, thus scoring his 32nd goal for the Netherlands.

The home side immediately tried to restore parity, and both Steven Defour and Nacer Chadli tested Maarten Stekelenburg with powerful shots from the edge of the box. The Roma shot-stopper was alert to the danger, though. Kevin De Bruyne came close to restoring parity with a good header, but the Oranje ‘keeper once more came out on top.

The Dutch eventually succumbed when Nigel de Jong lost possession inside his own half. Substitute Mertens picked up the loose ball, and beat Stekelenburg with a low shot at the near post.

Things would only get worse for Oranje from there on as they were unable to cope with the energetic Mertens. Only two minutes after the equaliser, the PSV man once more escaped the attention of Van Rhijn and set up Lukaku for Belgium’s third goal.

A superb De Bruyne pass toward Mertens then lead to the hosts’ third in five minutes, and fourth for the match. The former Utrecht star controlled the ball, danced past his marker, and then slid in Vertonghen, who blasted home from inside the area.

Belgium resume match action when they take on Wales on September 7 in the qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup. The Netherlands’ next game is their Cup qualifier at home against Turkey the same day.

International friendly: England 2 Italy 1

16 August 2012 00:05

England came from behind to beat their Euro 2012 conquerors Italy 2-1 in an international friendly in Switzerland.

Italy captain Daniele De Rossi’s header gave his side the lead before Phil Jagielka equalised with a similar effort and the Three Lions’ victory was completed by Jermain Defoe’s stunning 25-yard effort.

Jack Butland and Tom Cleverley made their senior international debuts in England’s starting XI, with the former becoming England’s youngest-ever goalkeeper in the process, while the returning Michael Carrick and Frank Lampard lined up alongside Manchester United’s Cleverley in the centre.

The Azzurri also included a debutant pairing in their attack, AC Milan’s Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia Destro – recently signed by Roma – making their bow for Cesare Prandelli’s side.

The Italians included Federico Balzaretti, Ignazio Abate and De Rossi from the side that knocked the Three Lions out of Euro 2012 on penalties, while just Ashley Young remained in Roy Hodgson’s side from that clash.

In a quiet opening, the best chances were found from set-pieces, with Angelo Ogbonna thumping a header over in the opening minutes, while English striker Andy Carroll also got too much on his headed effort from Lampard’s corner.

Italy took the lead on 15 minutes, again from a set-piece. Alessandro Diamanti’s corner was drifted into the centre and De Rossi lost Carrick before flicking his header over Butland and into the net.

The Italians continued to press immediately afterwards, although Adam Johnson forced a save out of Salvatore Sirigu in between Destro’s header being comfortably saved by Butland and the former Inter striker’s wide effort on goal after latching onto a long ball over the top from Alberto Aquilani.

Hodgson’s men continued to press, however, and grabbed an equaliser just before the half-hour mark through Jagielka as the Everton man’s diving header from Lampard’s corner zipped into the net with no man on the post for the Italians.

England looked energised after the goal. A flowing move between Young and Cleverley found Lampard who forced Sirigu into a smart save from distance, before Butland had to be alert up the other end to turn away Diamanti’s dangerous cross with Destro again lurking.

Substitutions were predictably seen at half-time with Defoe and John Ruddy replacing Carroll and Butland for England while Atalanta’s Federico Peluso came on for his Italy debut in place of Balzaretti.

Destro forced a good save out of Ruddy with a low effort and the forward’s grit was again on show as he blustered his way into the area only being denied by a last-ditch Cahill challenge that fell to Aquilani but the former Liverpool man’s ball to Abate was poor and the chance wasted.

Substitute James Milner made a fine impact as patient play from England eventually found the winger in a dangerous position, and his whipped cross deflected off Ogbonna and was well cleared by Davide Astori.

The 26-year-old again caused trouble for the Italians as he sent in a fine free kick that Peluso almost turned into his own net, Sirigu clawing the ball away to Joleon Lescott but the defender was unable to turn the ball in.

Ryan Bertrand was brought on for Leighton Baines for his senior England bow and was immediately called upon to hack the ball off the line from an Italian corner.

In an instant, England burst up the other end with Defoe found in the channel, with little options available, the Tottenham striker cut inside and unleashed a swerving shot from the corner of the box that Sirigu could only palm into the net.

The Azzurri had half-hearted shouts for a penalty turned down as Abate’s shot deflected up onto Lescott, with the Italians claiming in vain for a handball.

Defoe was close to notching another in stoppage time, but Astori was on hand to turn away Milner’s cross with the Tottenham man awaiting a tap-in and the Three Lions held on for their first win over Italy since 1997.

International friendly: Germany 1 Argentina 3

15 August 2012 23:51

Argentina took advantage of Ron-Robert Zieler’s dismissal to record a 3-1 win over Germany in their international friendly in Frankfurt.

The Hannover goalkeeper was given his marching orders after 30 minutes for bringing down Jose Sosa in the area, though Lionel Messi saw his resulting penalty saved by substitute keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen at the Commerzbank Arena.

However, Sami Khedira’s own goal on the stroke of half-time gave Argentina a lead they would never relinquish, with Messi atoning for his spot-kick failure with the visitors’ second goal on 52 minutes.

Angel Di Maria’s stunning drive, from 30 yards out, sealed the victory with just over a quarter of an hour to go, rendering Benedikt Howedes’ 81st-minute header a consolation for the hosts.

Things looked to be so different for Germany after a positive opening, where Marco Reus fired the first warning shot in the second minute, with a drag across the face of goal after a winding run past a few defenders.

Miroslav Klose’s enterprising foray down the left flank fashioned the next opening for Germany after 12 minutes, but Mesut Oezil was unable to make the most of his cutback, with Sergio Romero able to block.

Argentina played some entertaining football of their own and were able to cause problems in the attacking third. Their movement and interplay out wide was particular cause for concern, though Messi struggled to cope with the attentions of the home side’s defence.

However, Germany looked to have a slight edge and continued to create better chances, with Thomas Mueller’s goal-bound effort blocked by his own team-mate Oezil from close range.

But the complexion of the match would change on the half-hour mark, after Sosa was brought down by Zieler in the box after a quick dart past the German backline.

The 23-year-old was sent off, with Ter Stegen coming off the bench to replace Mueller and faced with the task of denying Messi from the penalty spot.

But with Messi’s penalty a weak one, the 20-year-old keeper was quick to who get down well to smother at his left post.

Germany were boosted by the save, and came within inches of taking the lead two minutes before half-time, when Reus released Marcel Schmelzer on the overlap, whose low centre was just missed by the toe of Klose.

But it would be Argentina who would strike just before the break, after a wild attempted clearance from a corner by Khedira instead resulted in him deflecting the ball into his own net.

The home side thought that they had equalised five minutes after the restart, when Reus hit the woodwork with Khedira working the rebound in for Oezil to turn home.

However, an offside call halted the celebrations of the home crowd and they were further silenced two minutes later when Argentina doubled their lead.

Messi had not been at his best all game, but he took full advantage of Germany’s numerical deficit, slotting home unmarked after he was teed up by Gonzalo Higuain at the end of a flowing counter-attack.

The Barcelona star nearly made it 3-0 shortly after an hour with a trademark dink over Ter Stegen, but his finish bounced the wrong side of the post.

Time was slowly running out for 10-man Germany to find a way back into the game. Substitute Andre Schurrle attempted to reduce the arrears with a stinging drive from distance, but Romero was able to save his effort.

But there would be no way back for Joachim Loew’s men after the 73rd minute, when Di Maria took aim from 30 yards out and buried an unstoppable effort past the helpless Ter Stegen.

Howedes pulled a goal back on 81 minutes after nodding in a cutback from Mario Gotze, who had done well to exploit a pocket of space behind the Argentine defence.

Germany finished with a late flourish in the opposition half, but the South Americans nearly scored a fourth late on after Higuain fired Messi’s through ball onto the post.

International friendly: Sweden 0 Brazil 3

15 August 2012 23:36

Brazil rose from their Wembley disappointment and were completely dominant as they defeated a well-organised Sweden 3-0 in Stockholm.

The Rasunda Stadium venue, which is due to be demolished in November, was the site of the 1958 World Cup final in which the two sides went head-to-head – that game finished 5-2 to the Selecao but the re-match did not quite scale such prolific heights.

Leandro Damiao opened the scoring in the first half before substitute Alexandre Pato netted a late double to cap an impressive and commanding performance for the South Americans.

After Pele, who scored two goals in that 1958 final, had placed the ball for kick off, neither side forced themselves on the other but the Brazil held an advantage due to their far greater retention of the ball.

In the 18th minute, Neymar tapped home after an effort from Oscar had rattled the post. However, the assistant referee had raised his flag and dubiously declared the Santos man offside.

Sweden were offering very little going forward, with just Christian Wilhelmsson offering one positive, purposeful outlet.

Brazil could have been two up with 24 minutes played but Alves’ free kick flew narrowly wide of the bottom corner, but had goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson beaten.

The 2014 World Cup hosts continued to up the ante and after Thiago Silva fell narrowly short of a tap-in from Neymar’s pass, Damiao added the finishing touch to the 20-year-old’s next delivery. A wonderful ball in from the left was met by the in-demand Internacional forward, who headed in his second international goal.

The Swedes, who had not created an opportunity for most of the opening 45 minutes, had two opportunities to equalise on the stroke of half time. After some lovely interplay, Marcus Berg was denied by Gabriel and then, from the resultant corner, Andreas Granqvist volleyed wide of the goal.

Within 10 minutes of the re-start Brazil could well have run away with the game. Alves had a booming shot palmed away by Isaksson and moments later Neymar poked wide after attempting to be too clever. Damiao then completed a hat-trick of missed chances as he found Paulinho’s flick on agonisingly out of reach at the back post.

There was little Erik Hamren’s men could do to resist the Samba Boys but some impressive organisation was maintaining a one-goal margin. However, after some off-target attempts from Damiao, it was his replacement who managed to finish off the resilient Swedes.

Pato was brought on in the final 15 minutes and he polished off the win with two goals in quick succession. After tapping home Alves’ little dink over Isaksson, the AC Milan striker won and converted a penalty in the 85th minute to give the scoreline the gloss it deserved.

Sweden sorely missed talismanic forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and they will expect a much better result when he returns for their World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan next month. Brazil, meanwhile, will be seeking further improvement when they continue their non-competitive fixture list with another friendly in September against South Africa.