French fail to get upper hand

World Cup Group A

Raymond Domenech’s side, who drew their first two group games in 2006 before going on to reach the final, struggled for ideas against a well-drilled South American outfit.

Winger Sidney Govou had by far the clearest chance to score for France in only the seventh minute, side-footing a Franck Ribery cross wide with the goal gaping.

And ironically France, who reached South Africa at Ireland’s expense thanks to Thierry Henry’s handball in the lead up to William Gallas’ goal in the World Cup play-off in Paris last November, were denied a penalty when a late Henry effort hit the hand of Uruguay defender Mauricio Victorino in the penalty area.

Uruguay even played the last nine minutes with 10 men after substitute Nicolas Lodeiro’s dismissal.

“It is almost a beautiful 0-0,’’ France’s eccentric coach Raymond Domenech said of last night’s stalemate.

“We performed as a unit and stopped them from playing. We had to guard against an unlucky counter.’’

He added: “It is frustrating not to have won the match. Perhaps we weren’t calm enough or quite precise enough in the final phase. Uruguay defended very well and they have quality in that regard.

“We tried and in the way we approached the game we did a great deal but we weren’t able to finish our chances. But the result is what it is.’’

Uruguay striker Diego Forlan felt a draw was a fair result.

“There weren’t many chances for either team, neither team wanted to take many chances,’’ the Atletico Madrid striker said. “It was very complicated. The whole game was equal, I thought.’’

France deployed former captain Henry on the bench with Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra having inherited the armband.

Abou Diaby started ahead of Florent Malouda amid speculation that the Chelsea winger has had a spat with Domenech. Reported disquiet in the French camp had seen stories emerge that the players had picketed Domenech to dump Bordeaux’s Yoann Gourcuff and play Diaby.

Domenech explained the reasons behind Malouda’s omission, stating: “There’s 23 players in the squad. Sometimes I make theses choices. Abu (Diaby) is able to bring things to the game.

“I don’t think he disappointed. No player is sure of playing the whole of the World Cup.’’

Uruguay posed a serious threat to France last night, given that they boasted two of European club football’s most potent goalscorers up front at Green Point Stadium in Forlan and Ajax forward Luis Suarez.

France should have opened the scoring in the seventh minute. Abou Diaby played Ribery in down the left and when the winger’s teasing left-footed cross flashed across the face of goal, Govou failed to strike it cleanly and the ball went well wide.

The first booking by Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura came after 11 minutes when Evra was cautioned for a cynical shirt pull while Ribery joined him in the book before the break.

France striker Nicolas Anelka headed over while at the other end a bending Forlan effort from the edge of the box forced Hugo Lloris to save.

Playmaker Gourcuff had two speculative efforts on goal as the half-time whistle approached.

Egidio Arevalo and Forlan both had chances early in the second half but neither could find the target for the two-time World Cup winning South Americans.

France were probing for the killer pass but Gourcuff was repeatedly denied by a well-drilled Uruguay defence. Victorino was carded for a late lunge on Evra in the 59th minute and Ribery blasted wide from the resulting training-ground set-piece by Gourcuff.

Uruguay boss Oscar Tabarez sent on Lodeiro for Ignacio Gonzalez and he was booked within a minute.

In the 66th minute Lloris dropped a catch under pressure from Suarez, who could not capitalise before Jeremy Toulalan was booked for a lunge on Uruguay wing-back Alvaro Pereira two minutes later.

Domenech sacrificed Anelka to send on Henry in the 71st minute to the delight of the 64,100 crowd, which was mainly comprised of locals.

Forlan had a 73rd-minute sight of goal when he dragged a first-time effort wide from Suarez’s flick-on, before his strike partner was swapped for veteran substitute Sebastian Abreu.

Domenech threw Malouda on for the disappointing Gourcuff but still they were devoid of cutting edge.

Lodeiro’s hapless cameo was ended abruptly in the 81st minute when he was carded again for a late and high challenge on Bacary Sagna.

Domenech’s last throw of the dice was to throw on Andre Pierre Gignac for Govou with five minutes left but to no avail.

French appeals for a penalty were dismissed when Henry’s stab towards goal seemed to hit Victorino’s lower arm in the 89th minute. That, however, was as close as they came, and for the third World Cup in a row, France failed to win their opening game.

Subs for Uruguay: Lodeiro for Gonzalez 63, Abreu for Suarez 73, Eguren for Perez 87.

Subs for France: Henry for Anelka, Malouda for Gourcuff 75, Gignac for Govou 85.

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