Chance for Ribery and Benzema to shine
© AFP

Kept at arm's length by England, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema will be expected to raise their game when France meet Ukraine on Friday in a match crucial to their UEFA EURO 2012 prospects.

Their performances in Monday's 1-1 draw with England were far from catastrophic, but neither the Bayern Munich winger nor the Real Madrid striker were able to pierce the English rearguard.

Instead centre stage was left to Samir Nasri, who rattled home France's 39th-minute equaliser and was subsequently named man of the match.

Considered by some as the only two world-class players at Laurent Blanc's disposal, Ribery and Benzema have central roles to play in what remains a young and inexperienced squad.

Pre-tournament form
Both hit form in France's warm-up games, with Ribery particularly influential after two years of off-pitch problems including the training ground strike at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.

With three goals in three matches, Ribery broke a three-year goal drought in the colours of his national side, while Benzema continued his fine form for Madrid by claiming an excellent brace in the 4-0 rout of Estonia.

However, they found the going tougher against England. Ribery proved that he is once again in top shape but he was guilty, on occasion, of over-elaboration, and particularly during the second half.

Benzema, meanwhile, was closely shackled by John Terry and Joleon Lescott, forcing the 24-year-old to drop deeper and deeper in search of the ball. It brought to mind Nicolas Anelka, roundly criticised for failing to hold his position at the last World Cup, although Blanc gave those comparisons predictably short shrift.

"When you say that Karim Benzema is dropping deep, have you seen him at Real Madrid?" Blanc asked journalists on Tuesday.

"He drops deep all the time. Against a compact defence, you have to try to lose your marker and find space. Karim plays like that habitually.

"It's true that he can play behind the defence because he has the legs, but playing against a compact team like that is not easy for a centre-forward."

Ribery also defended France's approach in their opening game. "We tried to play for 90 minutes," said the 29-year-old, who has scored 10 goals in 61 international appearances.

"We made twice as many passes as them, but there was no air. It felt very hot and it was very tough."

Although Oleg Blokhin's Ukraine are likely to defend in a similar manner to England, Ribery and Benzema will have no excuses if they do not produce the goods at Donbass Arena on Friday.

Apart from Ribery's 33-year-old Bayern team-mate Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, none of the members of the Ukraine's defensive sector play for leading European clubs.

In such a context, Ribery and Benzema's performances will be crucial, and not least because Friday's game could play a pivotal role in determining whether or not France are able to progress beyond Group D.