France 0 China 1
June 4 2010 @ Michel Volnay Stadium, Saint-Pierre, Reunion Island
The stunning Indian Ocean island of Réunion proved to be no idyllic retreat for Raymond Domenech's French team.
A series of unconvincing performances in their warmup matches culminated in a humiliating defeat for les Bleus at the hands of China.
French fans will have to hope that Domenech can inject some va-va-voom into his players in the remaining days before they kick off their World Cup campaign against Uruguay in Cape Town.
France’s under-pressure coach continued with the 4-3-3 formation that his team has been working with lately. And once again Thierry Henry was left to kick his heels on the substitute bench.
Instead Domenech's France faced a young Chinese side with Chelsea’s Nicolas Anelka up front, flanked by Franck Ribery and Sidney Govou.
Followers of France’s Ligue 1 will tell you how good Lyon winger Govou can be, but he rarely impresses in European competition or at international level. Yet again he was peripheral here, though to be fair, the majority of France’s attacks came down the left side.
The left is where Bayern Munich star Ribery does damage for his club side. But here China’s defenders were easily able to double up and prevent him from twisting his way into danger areas.
Support from fullback Evra would have helped but wasn’t forthcoming, while Florent Malouda seemed stifled by his role on the left side of the central three.
In the first half, France only threatened the China goal when William Gallas pushed forward for dead ball situations. A sweet back-heel finish was rightly ruled out for offside and the Arsenal defender should have done better with a free header from a Yoann Gourcuff corner.
The Bordeaux midfielder was one of France’s better performers and forced a good save from China’s goalkeeper Zeng Cheng with a shot from distance.
Halftime saw Lyon’s Anthony Reveillere replace left-back Bacary Sagna, but not any improvement in les Bleus.
Fans who filled the French colony’s main stadium began chanting the name of Thierry Henry when he appeared on the sideline to replace the quiet Anelka.
Domenech also brought on big Toulouse striker Andre-Pierre Gignac for Ribery and Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby in place of Malouda.
The changes did not have the desired effect and China scored its winner soon after. A free-kick from Deng Zhouxiang was headed straight at Hugo Lloris until the ball viciously swerved away from the goalkeeper’s despairing dive.
So that’s what all those goalkeepers mean when they talk about the unpredictability of FIFA's flighty new football.
Going behind brought some semblance of life to France but they faced a Chinese keeper in excellent form. Cheng saved brilliantly from both Henry and Diaby, while his defenders were throwing themselves in front of all French routes at goal.
Henry should have had a penalty when his superb touch was blocked by the arm of a Chinese defender. However the referee didn’t notice it, which will have raised ironic smiles in Ireland.
After the final whistle a disconsolate France trudged from the field to jeers from the crowd. Domenech has only seven days to try and give his countrymen something to cheer about.
What We Learned About France
The new 4-3-3 system is still not working. Any tactical change takes time to be absorbed by the players. But with a tough-looking opening World Cup fixture against Uruguay, can France afford to learn on the job?
William Gallas is a genuine threat from dead ball situations and he will probably score in the World Cup. Most likely against Mexico, who struggle in the air. It’s just a pity for France that Gallas is the only player likely to score.
However poor his form has been for Barcelona, France looks better with Henry on the pitch. Especially if he is left out of the team in favor of Govou.
It may take a wild card like Mathieu Valbuena or Djibril Cisse to liven up this dull French attack.