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France slump to first defeat of Domenech era

Written by: Staff

PARIS, Mar 2 (Reuters) France slumped to a clumsy 2-1 home defeat by Slovakia in a World Cup warm-up, their first defeat since Euro 2004 and their first under coach Raymond Domenech.

Substitutes Szilard Nemeth, who struck from 20 metres on the hour, and Josef Valachovic, with a free kick 11 minutes from time, ended Domenech's unbeaten run of 17 games yesterday.

The French pulled one back through striker Sylvain Wiltord from the penalty spot in the 74th after midfielder Florent Malouda was fouled.

The result is a huge setback for France coming against a team that failed to book a passage to the World Cup in Germany, having been eliminated by Spain in the playoffs.

It also confirmed that Les Bleus, still struggling for their best form, are more than ever vulnerable after a poor qualifying campaign.

France, who had a hardly convincing 0-0 draw against Germany on their last outing of 2005, were expected to offer their fans a bit more entertaining football.

It did not take long for the sparse Paris crowd to realise that they were not going to witness a top-notch performance.

Domenech had opted for Fenerbahce striker Nicolas Anelka instead of in-form Arsenal captain Thierry Henry to partner David Trezeguet up front in the first half.

HARDLY FAOURITES Trezeguet, the best scorer in the squad with 31 goals from 60 appearances, squandered two clear chances to find the net in the opening minutes while Anelka forced goalkeeper Lubos Hajduch to a clearance in the 13th.

More often than not, the French looked clumsy when they carried the ball, playmaker Zinedine Zidane providing little inspiration to try to break the lock of a compact and solid Slovakian defence.

Fabien Barthez, who returned to the number one position, saved a good shot from Robert Vittek in the 24th.

At the break, Domenech changed his whole attacking set-up, putting on Olympique Lyon pairing made up of Wiltord and Florent Malouda and along with Henry.

Henry brought some pace to the attack but wasted two great opportunities in the first 10 minutes of the second half and another one in the 71st.

The visitors opened the scoring thanks to a fine curling lob from 20 metres by Nemeth which left Barthez with no chance.

Reacting swiftly, the home side equalised when Malouda was brought down and Wiltord converted the penalty but Slovakia dashed French hopes when Valachovic slotted home a superb free kick from 18 metres.


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