Valenciennes (France): France preserved their lengthy undefeated sequence as they fought back from two goals down to earn a 3-2 victory against Iceland in Valenciennes.
The visitors had looked set to be unlikely winners of the match as they Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Birkir Bjarnason before the interval, but Mathieu Debuchy triggered the hosts’ comeback. Laurent Blanc’s men left things late, though, with Franck Ribery and Adil Rami both finding the target in the last six minutes.
France fed off the atmosphere in the opening stages of the game and fuelled the crowd with some enterprising early play, particularly from wingers Hatem Ben Arfa and Jeremy Menez, who was fouled right on the edge of the box.
They lacked real danger to their attacks, and against the run of play the hungry visitors would punish them severely. Lacklustre defending from Philippe Mexes saw him out jumped by Sigthorsson, whose header picked out Bjarnason. The winger had wandered too easily away from Patrice Evra and finished well from a difficult angle.
Sigthorsson would add a second only five minutes later, tapping in easily from close range as Rurik Gislason escaped the attentions of the sleeping Evra down the visitors’ right flank.
During the first period, France served largely to disappoint, despite mustering a trio of significant penalty appeals that were all ignored. There were signs before the break, though, that their forwards were starting to gel, but Karim Benzema skewed their best opening wide after good work from Ben Arfa.
Immediately after the break the Newcastle player was involved in the thick of the action, but after a clever chest from Benzema, he was sufficiently distracted by the packed defence to shoot wide from a good position.
There was now more energy about France, and within minutes they had drawn themselves back into the match through the unlikely source of right-back Debuchy, whose willingness to attack was finally recompensed when a ball broke kindly to the hosts in the box, allowing him to easily slot home.
What followed was very nearly a tale of frustration for the hosts as their opponents defended stoutly, blocking countless shots from the edge of the box and preventing the visitors getting a clear sight of goal. Substitute Mathieu Valbuena perhaps had France’s best opening, but after clever work to create space, he shot just wide.
Indeed, Iceland might well have added to their tally on the break, but Steve Mandanda saved from Bjarnason as the home defence was again nowhere to be seen.
They would live to regret this miss as France launched their salvage mission with the introduction of Olivier Giroud, whose deft pass to Ribery set up the Bayern Munich star for a lofted finish. Moments later, the Montpellier forward helped secure the turnaround with a wonderful header to Rami, whose first-time finish won the game.
Although France toiled for much of this match, Blanc can be pleased with the character of his team, who go into Friday’s friendly against Serbia on a 19-match unbeaten run.