France's new formation shows promise during win
Mathieu Valbuena scored in his international debut to help France beat Costa Rica 2-1 in a World Cup warmup Wednesday in Lens, France, with Raymond Domenech's team showing encouraging signs in a new attacking formation.
Valbuena hit a low shot past Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas in the 83rd minute after coming off the bench in the second half, breaking a 1-1 tie.
Carlos Hernandez gave Costa Rica the lead in the 12th minute with a low shot which bounced under the body of France goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, and France equalized when Franck Ribery's cross from the left deflected in off defender Douglas Sequeira.
Arsenal defender William Gallas played his first match since March 31 after recovering from a calf injury, and was replaced by Sebastien Squillaci at halftime.
Domenech switched the French team to a 4-3-3 formation, dropping his usual two holding midfielders and picking Nicolas Anelka in attack.
He has long favoured a cautious 4-2-3-1 lineup with Jeremy Toulalan and Lassana Diarra shielding the defence, but Domenech reconsidered after Diarra went home last week because of a genetic red-blood cell disorder.
In the 10th minute, Florent Malouda's pass cut through the Costa Rica defence and Sidney Govou forced a good save from Navas.
Mandanda redeemed himself for not saving the deflection goal by Ribery midway through the first half with a fine tip-over stop on Bryan Ruiz's curling shot, but France again showed a glaring weakness on set-pieces when Ruiz's header hit the crossbar in the 34th minute.
New midfield unveiled
Bordeaux's Yoann Gourcuff and Chelsea's Florent Malouda were beside Toulalan in a new midfield.
The back four Domenech used against Costa Rica are likely to be his defence in South Africa, with Arsenal defender Bacary Sagna at right back, Barcelona's Eric Abidal alongside Gallas in the centre, and Manchester United's Patrice Evra at left back.
The crowd gave the players a huge cheer when each name was read out, but Domenech was jeered, as was the case at every game during the qualifiers.
The French fans also gave a raucous and heartfelt rendition of the national anthem "La Marseillaise", a far cry from the groans, jeers, whistles and insults at Stade de France during the tense World Cup qualifiers.
Thierry Henry replaced Anelka at half time, with Domenech keeping the same formation.
Sagna missed a good header chance early in the second half, Henry almost scored in the 58th when he ran onto Ribery's pass and clipped a shot wide of the post, and Gourcuff hit a powerful shot wide.
Valbuena came on with 25 minutes to go, and soon shot wide after cutting in from the right. Having adjusted his sights, he gathered a pass from Ribery and neatly slotted the ball into the left corner in the 83rd for the eventual winner.
Navas had made a superb point-blank save from Sebastien Squillaci with 20 minutes remaining as France wasted chances to put the game comfortably away.