New-look France fail to set winning record

France's Paul Pogba, one of the few stalwarts who kept their starting spots, tries to control the ball against Ivory Coast.
France's Paul Pogba, one of the few stalwarts who kept their starting spots, tries to control the ball against Ivory Coast.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LENS • France missed the chance to make history after a much- changed side was held to a goal-less draw by Ivory Coast in a friendly in Lens on Tuesday.

The Ivorians came closest to breaking the deadlock at a packed Stade Bollaert-Delelis in the 11th minute, when a fierce strike by the Basel left-back Adama Traore smashed against the post and Salomon Kalou converted the rebound, only for the offside flag to deny the Hertha Berlin striker.

France struggled to create chances and were denied what would have been a record 14th victory in a calendar year, having equalled their previous-best performance, set in 2003, with a 2-1 win over Sweden in World Cup qualifying last Friday.

It was a flat finish to a good year for Didier Deschamps' side, which suffered just one defeat - the 1-0 extra-time loss by Portugal in the Euro 2016 final - and jeers greeted the final whistle.

Deschamps admitted his side's performance was "laborious" but added: "We have done very good things this year. Our only defeat hurts, it prevented us from winning a trophy. Still, the team have made a lot of progress and we need to build on that."

Ivory Coast were the more dangerous side and their French coach Michel Dussuyer will be pleased with the way his men performed as they prepare to defend their Africa Cup of Nations crown in Gabon in January.

"I'm very happy with the performance," he said. "We were solid, we wanted to defend but also play. We have created opportunities and France also had chances. Overall it was a good game for us."

Deschamps made seven changes to his side from the win against Sweden, with Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet among the few who kept their places.

The coach handed first caps to Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Adrien Rabiot, after Steve Mandanda withdrew due to injury, and to Rennes goalkeeper Benoit Costil, who was given his chance with Hugo Lloris rested.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2016, with the headline 'New-look France fail to set winning record'. Print Edition | Subscribe