Laurent Blanc's regeneration of the French national team continued apace on tonight as his side defeated ten-man Brazil 1-0 in a friendly match at the Stade de France. Karim Benzema capped a fine performance by claiming the game's only goal in the 54th minute, having earlier been on the receiving end of a shocking high challenge by Hernanes that saw the Brazil midfielder sent off.
Victory extended France's winning streak to five games since their shock loss at home to Belarus in their opening UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier in September. It also enabled Les Bleus to prolong their unbeaten run against Brazil to six matches, since a 2-0 defeat in a friendly at the Parc des Princes in 1992. For Brazil coach Mano Manezes, rebuilding - like Blanc - after a disappointing FIFA World Cup™ campaign, it was a second consecutive defeat after November's 1-0 loss to arch-rivals Argentina.
"Playing against Brazil is to play against the yardstick of world football - even if they are down to ten men. So we are very satisfied with the score, with the whole team and the group," Blanc told broadcaster TF1.
Brazil counterpart Menezes said the sending-off changed everything. "The red card had a major influence. In the second half things changed with us being a player down," insisted Menezes, adding he felt the dismissal was a little harsh as "these things happen on the pitch."
Menezes added he was determined to blood a young side. "It would be easy to hark back to Kaka or Ronaldinho, but that's not what we are about. We are looking to the future, to 2014," when Brazil will host the FIFA World Cup.
The game's first clear sight of goal fell to France, with Benzema shooting across goal and wide from Yoann Gourcuff's instinctive, flicked through-ball. Brazil's pressing made it difficult for France to play the ball out from the back, however, and the hosts soon found themselves on the back foot.
AC Milan team-mates Robinho and Alexandre Pato were the chief tormentors, exploiting the space between France right-back Bacary Sagna and his nearest defensive colleague, Adil Rami. Pato curled a right-foot shot narrowly over the bar from the left-hand edge of the penalty area in the 13th minute and Robinho lashed over from a similar position later in the half.
Hernanes interrupted the visitors' rhythm in brutal fashion five minutes shy of half-time. Benzema warmed the crowd by skilfully lifting the ball over an opponent but when he tried the trick on Hernanes, the Lazio man responded with a clumsy kick straight to Benzema's chest. German referee Wolfgang Stark instantly produced a red card and France were able to take the upper hand.
Benzema finds form
Benzema saw a half-volley blocked at close range by Thiago Silva early in the second half before Gourcuff tested Julio Cesar's handling with a low drive. The breakthrough arrived shortly after, Jeremy Menez jinking into space behind the Brazilian defence on the French right flank and squaring the ball for Benzema to tap home from three yards.
Julio Cesar twice prevented Benzema from making it 2-0 in the moments that followed, parrying a diving header and then pushing away a low strike from the out-of-favour Real Madrid striker as France attacked with vigour. Benzema also saw a mis-hit cross drift just wide of the right-hand post and later slipped as he shot after cleverly creating space inside the box.
The 23-year-old looked a different player to the uncertain figure occasionally glimpsed on the playing fields of the Spanish top flight and he received a rousing ovation when he was substituted with five minutes to play. Substitute Loic Remy nearly extended France's lead in injury time, but he shot just wide of goal after powering into the box from the right.