Benzema & Ribery star in France's 4-0 win over Estonia
Le Mans: Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery dazzled as France recorded a comfortable 4-0 victory over Estonia in their final pre-Euro 2012 friendly at the MMArena in Le Mans.
Ribery volleyed home the opening goal after 24 minutes after running on to Benzema`s superb flick before the Real Madrid striker then doubled the French lead with a goal of his own when he measured a sublime shot into the top corner shortly before half-time.
Less than 30 seconds after the restart Benzema tapped in Ribery`s fine cross from the edge of the six-yard box to put the result beyond any doubt, with Jeremy Menez adding a fourth goal in added time.
France were occasionally troubled by the pace of Estonia`s counterattacks but looked in buoyant attacking form ahead of their European kick-off against England on Monday.
The mood in the French camp could not be better heading into the Euro 2012. They travel to Donetsk on Tuesday having completed a 4-0 rout of Estonia, during which their attack fired impressively.
Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema, in particular, combined superbly, while off the bench Jeremy Menez managed to grab a goal, having been set up excellently by fellow-sub Olivier Giroud. Les Bleus are not 21 matches unbeaten, winning their last four, and let’s not forget that the Estonia side that were so humbled in Le Mans actually reached the Euro 2012 playoffs and can be considered no mugs.
Blanc has his side attacking with great confidence, but there is a caveat in that they look likely to be exposed by pace. While there is great competition in attack, the rearguard looks fragile, with Philippe Mexes` performance in the early part of this match calling into his position in the starting XI for the match with England.
France may not go to Euro 2012 as the favourites, but there will be few teams feeling so confident when the tournament kicks off.
Laurent Blanc did not spring any major surprises in his team selection, naming 11 players that could line-up against Roy Hodgson`s side in Donetsk. Alou Diarra partnered Yohan Cabaye in midfield in the absence of Yann M`Vila, who continues to struggle with an ankle injury, while Benzema was preferred to Olivier Giroud in attack.
34-year-old Andres Oper earned his 124th cap up front for Estonia, where he was joined by 21-year-old Henrik Ojamaa, who was playing for his country for just the fourth time.
After just 25 seconds, Diarra was holding his knee in pain having kicked the ground when playing a pass but the Marseille midfielder, to Blanc`s relief, was quickly back on his feet and able to continue.
Estonia took advantage of a subdued start to the match to create two early chances in quick succession. First, Tarmo Kink found himself played through on goal down the left-hand side but shot wildly across goal.
Philippe Mexes should have dealt with the subsequent cross from the opposite flank but mishit his clearance straight to Ojamaa, who just missed the far post with a low shot.
Mexes was again in trouble when Oper counter-attacked down the left wing but the AC Milan defender did just enough to prevent Ojamaa from converting his strike partner`s cross.
France`s attacking midfield trio of Ribery, Samir Nasri and Florent Malouda were receiving plenty of the ball but struggled, in the opening stages, to penetrate the defensive wall set up by their opponents.
Ribery created the home side`s best chance when he found the space to cross after a burst of pace on the left wing but his delivery was just too high for Benzema.
Eventually, France`s offensive quality shone through. Ribery volleyed a perfect finish past Estonia goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko after a wonderful flick from Benzema had set the Bayern Munich winger through on goal.
From there, French confidence flowed. Ribery had delighted the crowd with one nonchalant touch to Patrice Evra before Cabaye came agonisingly close to making it 2-0 with a swerving effort from 25 yards that shaved the post.
After his low cross had almost been diverted into the Estonia goal by Taavi Rahn, Benzema brilliantly doubled France`s lead. The 24-year-old, lurking at the back of the penalty area, controlled a high ball after a corner was only partially cleared and curled a sumptuous shot beyond Pareiko.
It took Benzema just 27 seconds to pick up where he left off after the break. Ribery raced away down the right wing and aimed an inch-perfect cross beyond the stranded defender Rahn for the striker to convert from close range.
Estonia`s surges into French territory had become less frequent since Ribery had broken the deadlock but the Blueshirts did engineer enough space for Sander Puri to shoot just wide after a swift move upfield on the hour mark.
For the most part, though, it was all too easy for France. The crowd was more interested in their Mexican wave when Benzema danced across the Estonia defence before testing Pareiko with a driven shot.
A fourth finally arrived when substitute Menez slammed home a left-footed shot from close range after Olivier Giroud smartly diverted a low cross by Evra.
Blanc rung the changes throughout the second half to ensure further injuries to his squad were avoided, with Laurent Koscielny deployed out of position as a holding midfielder in the absence of M`Vila and Matuidi.
Some work on Rami and Mexes` partnership may be required over the weekend but otherwise Les Bleus will take heart from a convincing final showing ahead of their big kick-off in Ukraine.