Varane fires France to 1-0 win over Sweden
MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Raphael Varane steered France to a 1-0 win over Sweden in a friendly at Stade Velodrome on Tuesday.
The 21-year-old France captain headed home a corner from Antoine Griezmann in the 83rd minute. His Real Madrid teammate Karim Benzema had an opportunity to double the lead three minutes later but missed a penalty after substitute Oscar Wendt handled the ball.
“The trust of the coach allows me to express myself a bit more,” Varane told Canal Plus television. “That’s something that I’m developing and that I have in me. So it’s up to me to keep speaking up in order to help the squad.”
France coach Didier Deschamps made eight changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Albania last week, while an uninspired Sweden side played without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was rested.
The hosts dominated possession from the outset, with the most spectacular move coming in the 31st when midfielder Mathieu Valbuena chested down a cross from Dimitri Payet to hit a bicycle kick that sailed wide.
Andre-Pierre Gignac then split the Sweden defense with a through ball for Griezmann in the 36th but a heavy touch from the Atletico Madrid forward allowed goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson to collect the ball.
Sweden, which beat France 2-0 in their previous meeting at Euro 2012, nearly scored against the run of play four minutes before halftime with a shot from Isaac Kiese Thelin but he was denied by goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, who made a diving save.
Gignac and Griezmann were again France’s most threatening players after the break. Gignac had a close-range attempt saved by Isaksson with his right leg in the 49th. The Sweden goalkeeper also parried a powerful strike from Griezmann in the 60th.
However, Isaksson was helpless when Varane planted his header into the bottom corner.
“Now we know that the goal will be the Euros,” Benzema said. “We must improve, play well with our clubs and increase our level.”
Deschamps is enjoying his best season at the helm of the France team with 10 wins, four draws and one loss on the year compared to five wins, two draws and five losses in 2013.
France, which is qualified for the Euro 2016 as the host nation, next hosts Brazil in a friendly in March while Sweden visits Moldova for a Euro 2016 qualifier.