Benzema inspires France to victory over Dutch

JULIEN PRETOT
Last updated 11:36 06/03/2014

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A razor-sharp Karim Benzema led France to a stylish 2-0 home victory over fellow World Cup finalists the Netherlands in a friendly on Wednesday (local time).

The French were greatly helped by the miserable performance of the visitors' defence as the Dutch back four were repeatedly outpaced on a springlike Parisian night.

In-form Benzema opened the scoring with a fierce half volley in the 32nd minute before Blaise Matuidi doubled the tally with a spectacular volley four minutes before the break.

The Netherlands, without the injured Arjen Robben, came closest to scoring when Robin van Persie's first-half volley was parried away by Hugo Lloris.

Van Persie started the game after recovering from a bout of sickness but Robben was not even on the match sheet because of a thigh injury.

France had the first clear chance in the 19th minute when Benzema's header from Griezmann's cross was cleared off the line by defender Ron Vlaar with the keeper beaten.

The Netherlands, who dominated possession, typically relied on their wingers to threaten the French goal.

But it was Van Persie who forced Lloris into a spectacular save with a sudden half-volley from inside the box on the half hour.

Benzema's half volley, however, went straight past Jasper Cillessen after the Real Madrid striker, nicely set up by Matuidi, easily outpaced the slow Dutch defence in the 32nd minute for his 19th France goal.

The visitors' back four were once again caught snoozing shortly before halftime, leaving Valbuena with all the necessary time to send a perfect cross to Matuidi, who twisted in the air and volleyed past Cillessen.

Deschamps gave Lucas Digne a chance to prove himself after the break when he replaced Patrice Evra but there was little defensive work for the Paris St Germain left back.

Valbuena, who showed great pace on the right wing, was replaced by Ribery as Deschamps looked to rest the Olympique Marseille player ahead of Friday's Ligue 1 home game against Nice.

PEDRO KICKS SPAIN HOME

Diego Costa made a disappointing debut for Spain in a friendly against Italy and it was the much livelier Pedro who struck the only goal in a 1-0 victory for the world and European champions.

All eyes were on Brazil-born Costa at Atletico's Calderon stadium, where he plays his club football, but although he linked up well at times with his new team mates he did not come close to finding the net.

The heavyweight clash between the last two nations to win the World Cup was predictably dominated by the Spanish and they were rewarded in the 63rd minute when Pedro was first to a loose ball and fired in off goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

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A repeat of the Euro 2012 final in Kiev won 4-0 by Spain, it was the 33rd meeting between the sides and each has won 10 with 13 draws.

GERMANY LACKLUSTRE

In Stuttgart, Mario Goetze scored against the run of play in the first half to give Germany a fortunate 1-0 victory over fellow World Cup hopefuls Chile in a friendly.

After Chile dominated the first 15 minutes, Goetze was set up by Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil before firing the ball into the top corner of Johnny Herrera's goal from 12 metres.

The visitors kept going forward and created plenty of chances against an unusually porous Germany defence.

"It was a lucky win," said captain Philipp Lahm after his team were jeered off. "I can understand the fans, the people paid for their tickets and they wanted to see something.

"We've got work to do and we know that (but) ... we were up against a good Chile team."

Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal, a former Bayer Leverkusen player, wasted a good opportunity for the South Americans in front of goal in the 26th minute and Charles Aranguiz could only hit the outside of the net when well placed 18 minutes later.

Chile continued outplaying the hosts in the second period with Eduardo Vargas blasting a shot against the crossbar from close range.

Vidal twice went close again, missing the best chance when he failed to beat keeper Manuel Neuer with a weak shot from seven metres.

"We saw how well Chile can play," said Germany coach Joachim Loew. "We struggled to keep pace and it was extremely difficult.

"Chile were outstanding, showed a lot of skill and a lot of running. We lost a lot of balls, especially up front, and there were also holes in midfield."

FRIENDLY DRAWS

Romania held Lionel Messi's Argentina to a 0-0 draw in a friendly as the South Americans continued their preparations for the World Cup.

Argentina demonstrated its superior technical skills and kept up the pressure throughout a game watched by 47,000 people on a wet evening at the National Arena in Bucharest.

However, Romania proved tenacious in defence and was clearly determined not to lose against one of the favourites for the World Cup in Brazil.

Argentina's best chance came in the 84th minute when Messi intercepted a ball in the box and passed to Angel Di Maria, whose shot was saved by goalkeeper Ciprian Tartarusanu.

An injury time strike by substitute Max Gradel allowed Ivory Coast to claw back from a two-goal deficit and grab a 2-2 draw with Belgium in an international friendly.

Hosts Belgium could have scored a number of times before halftime but were left to rue some poor finishing and a scoreline that barely reflected the balance of power in the match.

A Marouane Fellaini header from a corner in the first half and a tight-angled shot from little-used midfielder Radja Nainggolan early in the second ensured what looked like a comfortable two-goal cushion.

However, Didier Drogba muscled past Belgium's defence to pull one back for the visitors with less than 20 minutes to play and a minute into injury time, Gradel slammed in a poor clearance to bring Ivory Coast level.

Belgium's supremacy had been so great in the first half that they had nine attempts on goal while Ivory Coast had none.

Ivory Coast remain unbeaten since a mid-August friendly against Mexico, while Belgium, who lost November friendlies to Colombia and Japan, appear in need of some shooting practice.

Josip Drmic twice put Switzerland in front and Ivica Olic replied both times for Croatia as the two World Cup finalists drew 2-2 in a lively friendly in St Gallen.

Switzerland, who went through their qualifying group unbeaten, created plenty of openings and went ahead in the 34th minute after Danijel Pranjic lost possession in midfield.

Drmic collected the ball and wriggled past his marker before beating Danijel Subasic with a low shot into the far corner.

Olic levelled five minutes later when he was left unmarked at a corner and turned the ball in from five metres.

Switzerland regained the lead two minutes after that when Steve von Bergen sent a long punt out of defence and Drmic raced clear of the Croatian rearguard to plant the ball past Subasic from a difficult angle.

Croatia, who had started with Mario Mandzukic on the bench, brought on the Bayern Munich forward at halftime and quickly equalised.

The ball was played inside Swiss fullback Stephan Lichtsteiner and Olic got in front of him and turned his shot wide of Diego Benaglio to score.

Midfielder Alvaro Pereira scored a second-half equaliser to help Uruguay draw 1-1 with Austria in the South Americans' World Cup warmup game.

Two minutes after replacing Cristian Rodriguez, Pereira tapped in after Austria goalkeeper Robert Almer failed to gather the ball in the 66th.

Austria captain Marc Janko had given the home side the lead after 14 minutes, beating goalkeeper Fernando Muslera with a low shot from just inside the area.

Austria dominated the opening 20 minutes before Uruguay took control of an entertaining first half. The match was less fluent in the second half, with Austria creating few opportunities and Uruguay becoming sloppy with its passing.

With its injured striker Radamel Falcao watching from the stands, World Cup-bound Colombia drew 1-1 in a friendly international against Tunisia in Barcelona.

Colombia finished with 10 men when Luis Amaranto Perea was sent off. It was Colombia's first match since Falcao underwent surgery on his left knee just over a month ago. He hopes to be back when the World Cup opens in three months.

James Rodriguez gave Colombia a 1-0 lead in the 20th minute on a penalty. Khazri Wahbi equalised in the 35th.

Meanwhile, Turkey beat Sweden 2-1 with headers from Mevlut Erdinc and substitute Olcan Adin in a friendly in Ankara.

Erdinc powered his header into the low right corner of the net after just two minutes when Gokhan Gonul lobbed the ball in from just outside the penalty area.

Sweden piled on the pressure at the end of the first half, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the attacks. The visitors equalised in the 54th minute when Ola Toivonen, who replaced Ibrahimovic at halftime, stole the ball from a careless Semih Kaya and slotted home.

Turkey went ahead again four minutes later when Caner Erkin crossed the ball from the left and Adin, who replaced Burak Yilmaz, headed in from close range.

Cristiano Ronaldo became Portugal's all-time leading scorer, netting twice as Portugal thrashed Cameroon 5-1 in a warm-up match between teams preparing for the World Cup.

Ronaldo clinched his place in the record book with goals in the 21st and 83rd minutes, taking his international tally to 49. The 2013 Fifa world player of the year overtook Pauleta, who retired in 2006 after scoring 47 goals in 88 games. Ronaldo was making his 110th appearance.

Vincent Aboubakar equalised for Cameroon with a close-range volley in the 43rd as both teams delivered some slick attacking play.

After two goals in two minutes, from Raul Meireles and Fabio Coentrao, Ronaldo set up substitute Edinho's goal in the 77th before sealing the win in the late stages as the visitors tired.

- Reuters

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