France put their World Cup fiasco behind them as late goals by substitutes Loic Remy and Yoann Gourcuff earned them a 2-0 home win against Romania and top spot in Euro 2012 qualifying Group D on Saturday.
Les Bleus, who made an embarrassing first-round exit in South Africa, saw their campaign gather pace at a packed Stade de France after leaving it late to see off a tough Romania side.
Striker Remy, a 68th-minute replacement for Mathieu Valbuena, fired a low shot into the far corner of the net after a quick counter-attack seven minutes from time.
Playmaker Gourcuff, featuring for the first time since Les Bleus’ farcical South African campaign, came off the bench to put the result beyond doubt in stoppage-time.
“There is a deep change, but it’s only the beginning,” said winger Florent Malouda, who had an on-and-off relationship with former national team coach Raymond Domenech. “We said after the Bosnia game [a 2-0 away win] that we were able to play well. It’s good for our confidence because only good results can give you confidence.”
Laurent Blanc’s side, who started the campaign with an embarrassing defeat at home to Belarus, now have six points from three matches ahead of Albania and the Belarus on five points.
Romania stay second from bottom with two points.
“It is very frustrating because we lost just when we started to control the play, but we have to acknowledge France were superior,” Romania coach Razvan Lucescu told a press conference.
France’s next qualifier is against Luxembourg in Metz tomorrow.
The home side got off to a good start in Paris, with Samir Nasri and Valbuena dictating the play in the midfield, but they lacked sharpness as Romania just sat back.
“The team did not give up, they always believed they could win. I liked this spirit,” Blanc told a press conference. “It was a tough match, we did not create really clear chances in the first half because Romania were well organized and proved solid. I told my players a game was not finished after 60 minutes and that it was not forbidden to win it in the final 10 minutes.”
The home side had their first clear chance in the 19th minute when, after a fine pass on the turn by Nasri, Florent Malouda fired just wide.
France had another great opportunity to open the scoring four minutes before the break when Karim Benzema’s fine curled shot from the edge of the area and shaved the far post, but the hosts were asleep early in the second half when a Bogdan Stancu cross was struck on the volley at the far post by George Florescu forced goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to punch clear.
It spurred Les Bleus back into action, but they were superbly denied several times by visiting goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon.
Valbuena unleashed a powerful shot from 18m that brought a superb one-handed save by Pantelimon, who forced the ball up onto the bar, before it was booted clear of danger.
Benzema then struck a shot from close range at the near post, but found the Romania goalkeeper in his way, just before Nasri sped down the left flank and into the penalty area, only to see his attempt saved by Pantilimon’s feet.
The game could have gone Romania’s way in the 70th minute when Cristian Sapunaru’s shot struck Lloris’ right post and the France goalkeeper gratefully dived on the rebound, but it was France who took the lead when Remy collected a long ball from Alou Diarra and sped past Cristian Chivu, before beating Pantilimon to trigger wild celebrations in the crowd.