Lackluster France loses 1-0 to Japan in friendly
SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) -France lost 1-0 at home to Japan on Friday in a lackluster performance that will give coach Didier Deschamps plenty to worry about ahead of next week's crucial World Cup qualifier away to reigning world and European champion Spain.
France only threatened late on, but after twice going close to scoring, was hit by a classic counterattack when Yasuyuki Konno netted in the 88th minute.
The ball was quickly worked up the field and Yuto Nagatomo crossed for Konno to stab the ball into the empty net past helpless goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
"Unfortunately we got hit by a counter attack of 100 meters. I think we could have avoided it, but that's part of the game and we must lift our heads up and prepare for Tuesday's game in Spain,'' said Lloris, who was quick to praise coach Alberto Zaccheroni's team.
"Some of their players play in the biggest clubs in Europe,'' Lloris said. "We knew they would be good and they proved tonight how well organized they were by weathering the storm and hitting us with a quality goal.''
Striker Karim Benzema came close to scoring in the first half when his free kick was saved by Eiji Kawashima, who kept out shots from substitute Mathieu Valbuena and Olivier Giroud in quick succession moments before Japan scored.
Deschamps paired Mamadou Sakha alongside Laurent Koscielny in a shaky makeshift center half pairing that could be ruthlessly exposed by Spain, which thrashed Belarus 4-0 on Friday to record its 24th straight win in a qualifier and move level with France on six points in Group I.
"Spain will be reassured by that result and we have to be ready to all work hard together over there,'' Lloris said.
Koscielny and Benzema tried their luck with speculative headers early on. But with little invention from midfield, France struggled to build attacks in the first half, with passes often over-hit and the quality of crossing poor.
Koscielny released Mathieu Debuchy in the 25th and he had plenty of time to pick out Benzema at the far post but almost sent the ball over the Real Madrid forward's head.
Benzema forced Kawashima into a spectacular save from a free kick as France registered its first shot on target in the 38th.
The French team was loudly jeered off the pitch at halftime, and Japan went closest to breaking the deadlock 10 minutes into the second half, but Lloris did well to push away a Shinji Kagawa shot.
Deschamps took off Benzema at halftime to rest him for Tuesday's match in Madrid and brought on Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery midway through the second half. Ribery looked sharp and tested Kawashima with a low shot that the goalie smothered.
Valbuena also looked sharp and nearly found Giroud with a low cross in the 75th, and substitute striker Bafetimbi Gomis had a close-range goal ruled out for offside moments later.
But France had already survived a couple of nervous goal-mouth scrambles before being undone by Konno's goal.
"Winning in Paris is difficult for any team in the world and we deserved the win,'' Japan forward Mike Havenaar said. "We stayed patient and hit them with a quality counter.''
Jerome Pugmire can be followed at http://twitter.com/jeromepugmire