France draws 0-0 with Belgium
BRUSSELS (AP) — France ended a three-game losing streak on Wednesday by drawing 0-0 with Belgium in a friendly, while striker Karim Benzema extended his goal drought for the national team to 1,155 minutes.
Belgium bossed the midfield and created the better chances but lacked the finishing touch despite an inspired Kevin De Bruyne.
Eric Abidal was playing his first match for France since recovering from a liver transplant last year while Geoffrey Kondogbia was making his France debut.
France will face Georgia and Belarus in World Cup qualifiers next month while Belgium will visit Scotland.
“I would have preferred to win, even though we lost our previous matches,” France coach Didier Deschamps told TF1 television. “We didn’t win this match, but we didn’t lose either. The match that we will have to win is the one in Georgia in September.”
In six matches this year, France has four losses, one draw and just one victory. By contrast, Belgium won its five previous games.
Benzema had the first scoring chance of the match in the 11th minute with an effort from a tight angle stopped by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
But Belgium looked the better team, spurred by an attack that had a strong Chelsea flavor with Romelu Lukaku up front and Eden Hazard and De Bruyne on the wings.
Laurent Koscielny twice saved France with timely tackles. The Arsenal center back beat Lukaku to the ball in the 16th to clear a teasing cross from De Bruyne before intercepting a through ball from De Bruyne for Hazard in the 24th.
Koscielny teamed up with Abidal in the heart of the France defense. The Monaco center back played the entire match and showed poise despite Belgium’s pressure.
Belgium is 10th in the FIFA rankings while France has slipped to 23rd. The gap clearly showed on the pitch.
Hazard cut inside to fire a low drive straight into Hugo Lloris’ arms in the 21st while De Bruyne took advantage of a poor clearance from Koscielny in the 37th but missed the target from close range.
Franck Ribery led Bayern Munich to the Champions League title last May and proved France’s most potent threat.
The France winger outpaced Marouane Fellaini to square the ball back for Benzema in the 43rd but Vincent Kompany rushed back to clear Ribery’s low cross.
On the stroke of halftime, Ribery set up Benzema, whose curling shot sailed over the bar.
The Real Madrid striker also failed to catch the frame from five yards in the 59th and was denied by Courtois in the 66th as his international goal drought continued.
Kondogbia shone last month as a member of the France team that won the Under-20 World Cup. But on Wednesday he struggled in midfield for his first cap. One of his turnovers led to a dangerous Belgian counterattack in the fifth minute.
Kondogbia nearly made amends in the 30th as Courtois punched a corner into the path of the Sevilla midfielder, whose volley deflected off Toby Alderweireld’s head.
Belgium stepped up the pressure in the second half. But fullback Sebastien Pocognoli in the 49th, Fellaini in the 62nd, and substitute Kevin Mirallas in the 73rd all missed the target.
De Bruyne tormented the France defense, slipping the ball to Lukaku in the 59th but the Chelsea forward could not make contact with the ball, four yards from the goal line.
Lloris helped France salvage a draw by saving an angled shot from Lukaku in the 53rd and parrying a powerful strike from De Bruyne in the 68th.
Samir Nasri came off the bench in the 63rd to replace Dimitri Payet. That was Nasri’s first appearance for France since serving a three-game ban for insulting a journalist in an expletive-laced tirade following a 2-0 loss to Spain at the 2012 European Championship.
France had the last chance of the match. Olivier Giroud, who replaced Benzema, pounced on a loose ball in the 85th but sent his volley over the bar from 15 yards.
In World Cup qualifying, Belgium leads Group A, three points ahead of Croatia, whereas France trails Spain by one point in Group I.