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Belgium draws 0-0 at France in uneventful friendly
By JEROME PUGMIRE
Associated Press
2011-11-16 05:59 AM
France was held to a 0-0 a draw by Belgium in a friendly containing few chances Tuesday, extending its unbeaten run to 17 matches despite showing little invention.

The French players left the field to loud jeers from the Stade de France crowd after hardly testing goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Karim Benzema went close with a glancing header from Anthony Reveillere's cross in the 70th minute, while Belgium substitute Kevin Mirallas forced France 'keeper Hugo Lloris into a smart double save five minutes later.

France lost midfielder Yann M'Vila near halftime when carried off on a stretcher with his neck in a brace after landing heavily following a collision with Belgium winger Eden Hazard close to the touch line.

"We wanted to win in front of our home fans but it wasn't to be," France winger Franck Ribery said. "Still, it's another match we didn't lose and that's good for our confidence."

France coach Laurent Blanc ditched the restrictive 4-4-2 formation he used in Friday's scrappy 1-0 win over the United States in favor of a more flexible 4-2-3-1 formation, with Benzema as the central striker and flanked by Ribery and Loic Remy.

Belgium used Jelle Vossen in a lone striker's role, with Eden Hazard and Moussa Dembele switching sides on the flanks to make it more difficult for France's defenders to settle.

After a slow start, Belgium threatened when defender Daniel Van Buyten went close with a downward header that flashed just wide in the 15th minute.

"I'm fairly pleased with how we played. We've got a young team that's gaining in maturity and I'm happy with the character and enthusiasm they showed," Belgium coach Georges Leekens said. "We hurried things a bit going forward, but I think we were solid in defense."

Midfielder Yohan Cabaye and Benzema were felled by heavy first-half challenges as Belgium dominated the physical matchups.

Ribery failed to make an impact in the early stages, seeming unsure of whether to pass and shoot when he got near the Belgium penalty area. But when Cabaye picked him out with a cushioned 50-yard, cross-field pass that landed perfectly at his feet, Ribery at least forced Courtois into action with a curling shot from the edge of the area.

With M'Vila replaced by Lyon's Maxime Gonalons, Belgium continued to rough France up.

Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen was shown a yellow card for a crude late challenge on Remy, while Everton's Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel easily outmuscled Cabaye and the equally diminutive Marvin Martin in the center of the field.

Benzema had a shot blocked by Vincent Kompany and Cabaye went close with a rasping shot that beat Courtois but flew just past the post as France tried to up the tempo in the second half.

But these were rare moments of encouragement for Blanc, and Benzema often dropped so deep to collect the ball that France effectively had no center forward at times.

Blanc injected more urgency into his team by making made a triple substitution with 20 minutes left, bringing on striker Olivier Giroud and wingers Jeremy Menez and Florent Malouda. Benzema, Remy and Ribery made way.

Mirallas came on for Vossen and almost broke the stalemate from just inside the area. The rebound fell back to him, but Lloris stood up well to bat the ball away for a corner.

Malouda looked sharp during his brief appearance, volleying a pass back across the goalmouth that would have led to a simple tap-in had there been any French players near the penalty sport to attack the ball.

Belgium almost sneaked a late winner when Hazard darted into the penalty area in the last minute and floated over a dangerous cross, but left back Eric Abidal read the danger well and chested the ball expertly to Lloris.

___

Lineups:

France: Hugo Lloris; Anthony Reveillere, Adil Rami, Mamadou Sakho, Eric Abidal; Yann M'Vila (Maxime Gonalons, 42), Yohan Cabaye; Marvin Martin; Loic Remy (Olivier Giroud, 72), Karim Benzema (Jeremy Menez, 72), Franck Ribery (Florent Malouda, 72).

Belgium: Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Daniel Van Buyten, Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen; Moussa Dembele (Nacer Chadli, 62), Marouane Fellaini, Timmy Simons, Eden Hazard; Axel Witsel, Jelle Vossen (Kevin Mirallas, 69).

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