Wed, Sep 09, 2015 - Page 18 News List

Matuidi nets brace as France defeat Serbia in friendly

AP, BORDEAUX, France

France’s Blaise Matuidi celebrates after scoring against Serbia in their international friendly at the Stade Matmut Atlantique in Bordeaux, France, on Monday.

Photo: AFP

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Blaise Matuidi continued his scoring form with two goals as European Championship hosts France beat Serbia 2-1 in a friendly match on Monday.

With Karim Benzema on the bench, Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud got a rare start in attack, flanked by Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann and Lyon’s Mathieu Valbuena.

Although Griezmann kept the French attack ticking all game with his tricky feet and smart runs, Matuidi decided the game with a well-taken downward header from Bacary Sagna’s ninth-minute cross and then a blistering volley midway through the first half.

Matuidi has netted twice in four league games for Ligue 1 leaders PSG this season.

“He is full of confidence and everything is going for him,” said France coach Didier Deschamps, who took Matuidi off at half-time, replacing him with Geoffrey Kondogbia. “He is playing [for PSG] on Friday so I do not want to push him.”

Newcastle striker Aleksandr Mirtovic replied for Serbia late in the first half.

In an entertaining match, France went close to a second goal when Giroud’s sliding close-range shot was saved by 19-year-old Predrag Rajkovic, while Serbia almost leveled in the 18th minute when Ajax midfielder Nemanja Gudelj forced a smart stop from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

As France continued to dominate, Griezmann bewitched the Serbian defense with a body swerve before playing the ball into Giroud’s feet on the left and sprinting to collect a return pass near the penalty spot. However, instead of receiving an easy tap-in, he watched in frustration as Giroud shot wide from a narrow angle.

Matuidi showed how to finish in the 25th minute with a left-footed bullet from long range that flew into the top left corner as Rajkovic, slumped on his knees, watched helplessly.

“I saw the ball coming and I did not ask questions,” Matuidi said. “That is often the case: When I do not question myself, it goes in.”

Serbia scored against the run of play in the 39th minute when midfielder Lazar Markovic’s mishit shot cannoned off Mitrovic and wrong-footed Lloris.

Giroud’s finishing let him down again on the stroke of half-time when he failed to connect properly with defender Benoit Tremoulinas’ cross. Early into the second half, it was Griezmann who wasted a chance, running onto Kondogbia’s astute pass and slotting against the left post with Giroud unmarked this time.

Manchester United’s 19-year-old forward Anthony Martial — the most expensive teenager in soccer history after joining from AS Monaco last week for a reported £36 million (US$55.5 million) — came on with 15 minutes remaining.

Although he showed neat touches, cutting in from the left wing, France gave the ball away constantly in the closing stages.

However, Serbia failed to make the most of several breaks led by the skillful Zoran Tosic, who has forged a successful career with CSKA Moscow since being released by United in 2010.

France qualified automatically for Euro 2016 as hosts, so matches involving France in qualifying Group I do not count.

“With 17 points, we have qualified — just in case,” Deschamps said.

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