Ribery, Malouda score as France beats Serbia 2-0
REIMS, France (AP) -France extended its unbeaten run to 20 matches as Franck Ribery and Florent Malouda scored to beat Serbia 2-0 on Thursday.
The performance was an improvement on Sunday's 3-2 win against Iceland, where France had to come back from 2-0 down to scrape a late win.
Coach Laurent Blanc said he was "optimistic and satisfied'' with the performance, but lamented how his side dropped off in the second half.
"We played well for 60 minutes, scored good goals and controlled the game,'' he said. "We're on the way up, we're improving. But I still don't think we're ready yet, physically we were a bit tired after 65 minutes.''
This time, France went into the break two goals ahead as Ribery scored with a clinical finish and then Malouda fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner from 30 meters out.
"A team like France should be able to impose itself on other teams,'' Malouda said. "I'll have to look in the archives for the last time we started a game so well. The way we played in the first half should be a reference for us.''
But there was some cause for concern for Blanc as defensive midfielder Yann M'Vila limped off early on with an ankle injury after receiving a heavy tackle from behind.
France plays Estonia in its final friendly next week before starting the European Championship against England on June 11.
Blanc will have been encouraged by his team's performance, particularly in the first half, where France could have scored five goals.
The passing and movement, if not some of the wasteful finishing, were the best France has shown for a long time, with forward Karim Benzema combining well with Ribery and Samir Nasri, and with Malouda thriving in his new role from the left side of a flat, three-man midfield.
Ribery and Malouda were both worried about their form heading into Euro 2012, but did much to push their claims for a starting spot against England, as did left back Gael Clichy and center half Laurent Koscielny, who both played well.
"We scored early and killed the game off,'' Koscielny said. "The defense and the attack were both good, there are a lot of positives to take from this game.''
M'Vila went off injured after only five minutes after being fouled by Dusan Tadic, but his injury was not as serious as Blanc first feared, although he will definitely miss the Estonia match.
"He has a big sprain on his ankle, but it's not too worrying,'' Blanc said. "We're hopeful he'll be ready for the first game (against England).''
M'Vila went down clutching his right leg, but got back up and continued playing. Moments later, however, the midfielder made one pass with his left foot and then fell down again. He was replaced by Alou Diarra.
France took the lead in the 11th minute and added a second goal five minutes later.
Clichy helped set up the first as he burst down the left and hit a hard cross that goalie Zeljko Brkic could only punch away. The ball fell to Ribery just inside the penalty area and he thumped it into the roof of the net.
Ribery's poor form for France over the past couple of years had been a talking point, and even Blanc admitted he was running out of patience as he waited for the Bayern Munich winger to reproduce his club form for France.
But after more than three years without an international goal, Ribery has two in his last two games after also scoring against Iceland.
Malouda gave Brkic no chance moments later, collecting the ball, taking a step forward and planting an unstoppable shot into the top left corner.
France goalie Hugo Lloris had nothing to do until the 25th, and that was only to smother a tame shot. France broke straight back up the other end, and Samir Nasri went close with a low shot across goal.
Serbia's defense was breached again in the 29th but Ribery's cut back fell just behind Benzema, with the goal gaping.
Serbia started the second half better and defender Branislav Ivanovic forced Lloris into a fingertip save with a stinging free kick. Lloris then dived to his left to keep out Tadic's low strike.
The match petered out as France was happy to stroke the ball around and Blanc made a few substitutions.