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18 Nov 2010

A late England rally could not disguise a gulf in class and technique as France earned a deserved victory at Wembley.

Fabio Capello gave youth its chance in the shape of debutants Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson - but the friendly provided few positives for the coach as France's quality and composure left England distinctly second best.

Karim Benzema emphasised the visitors' superiority with an early goal, and once Mathieu Valbuena swept home a second from Bacary Sagna's cross just after the break, England were left with too much work to do.

Peter Crouch, on as substitute for the injured Steven Gerrard, capped an England surge of sorts with his 22nd goal in 41 England appearances, but France's narrow margin of victory did not truly reflect the dominance they exerted for so much of the game.

Carroll was one of the few bright spots in an England display that was dismal for long periods, his endeavour on a meagre supply earning warm applause when he was substituted with 20 minutes left.

Sunderland's Henderson endured a difficult night, but so did many of his more experienced England team-mates in the face of France's precise passing style and outstanding movement.

Cardiff City's Jay Bothroyd also won his first cap as substitute, but there were few memories to cherish for any of the England camp.

And if this game was a measure of how England and France have recovered from traumatic World Cup campaigns in South Africa, then it is clear Laurent Blanc has taken his team to a more advanced stage of rehabilitation than Capello.

Carroll was passed fit and started, despite Newcastle's reservations about his groin injury - and he was one of the few pluses in a harrowing first 45 minutes for England.

With Everton's Phil Jagielka struggling in an unfamiliar right-back slot, France seized control from the start and refused to relax their grip.

Florent Malouda and Yoann Gourcuff had already brought saves from England keeper Ben Foster, called in after Joe Hart suffered a back spasm in training, before France got the goal they deserved after 16 minutes.

Jagielka and Rio Ferdinand were moved out of position by a slick exchange between Malouda and Benzema before the Real Madrid striker drilled in a low drive which beat Foster at his near post.

Newcastle's Carroll battled well in what was often a one-man fight with the France defence, but such was the superiority of the visitors in all parts of the pitch that he was rarely afforded any decent service.

Capello acted during the interval by sending on Adam Johnson, Ashley Young and Micah Richards for Theo Walcott, Gareth Barry and Ferdinand - only to see any serious hope of a revival extinguished by France's second goal 10 minutes after the break.

It was another move which highlighted the difference between the sides as Sagna crossed invitingly for Valbuena to time his run perfectly and glide a finish low into the corner beyond Foster.

England caused minor anxiety for France after 62 minutes when Gerrard chased Johnson's free-kick to the far post, but his header landed on top of the bar.

Bothroyd was then introduced for his debut with 20 minutes left, and was almost presented with the chance to mark his entrance with a goal, but he was just unable to get the final touch after Johnson's shot caused an outbreak of mass confusion in the French penalty area.

After Samir Nasri fired a rising shot against the post, England coach Capello was forced to introduce Crouch when Gerrard pulled up and limped off with what looked like a hamstring injury.

And Crouch made an instant impact when he stretched out a leg at the far post to turn Ashley Young's corner beyond France keeper Hugo Lloris.

England then attempted to snatch an unlikely draw in a frantic final period, but France deservedly survived as the current limitations on the resources available to Capello were exposed.

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