Improving France dealt defensive headache

PARIS - One year after their World Cup fiasco, France are confident they are now on the right path despite some defensive woes as they travel to Romania for a Euro 2012 qualifier on Tuesday.

Les Bleus, who were knocked out in the first round in South Africa following some risible performances on and off the pitch, have dramatically improved up front although they looked shaky at the back in Friday's 2-1 win in Albania.

Coach Laurent Blanc, however, refused to panic.

"We had a very very tricky second half... but we should not be that negative. We did win that game, right?," Blanc asked reporters.

"It was a much better performance that [last year] against Belarus," he added referring to France 1-0 home defeat to Belarus in their Group D opener.

France are now top of the standings with 16 points from seven matches, three points ahead of Bosnia. Romania lie fourth, five points off the pace.

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema was at his brilliant best against Albania, scoring one goal and setting up another in the opening 20 minutes but the French defence struggled throughout.

They were without centre-backs Philippe Mexes, who is injured, and Adil Rami, who was suspended but could be back to face Romania.

"I said before the game that a good defence was important. We should have been better [against Albania]," said Blanc.

The coach is likely to field right-back Bacary Sagna instead of Anthony Reveillere, after the Arsenal player recovered from a virus, while Eric Abidal, with Philippe Mexes injured, is set to keep his place in central defence alongside Rami or Younes Kaboul.

"[Sagna] is much better. Will he be at 100 percent? We can think so. I hope he will be fit," said Blanc, who could also be tempted to grant Marvin Martin a starting spot in place of the disappointing Florent Malouda in the midfield.

Romania beat Luxembourg 2-0 on Friday to keep alive their slim chances of qualifying but France will be a tougher nut to crack.

Coach Victor Piturca, who returned to the national team in the summer, was optimistic about Romania's chances against France, despite losing Gabriel Torje, who scored both goals in Luxembourg, to suspension.

"For my debut to be a success we must have a good result against France," Piturca told Romania's ProTV.

"Any player that walks on the field against France must be motivated. I think... we could have a good result."

France will finish their qualifying campaign with home games against Bosnia and Albania next month.

Probable teams:

Romania - Ciprian Tatarusanu; Romeo Surdu, Razvan Rat, Vasile Maftei, Cosmin Contra; Ciprian Marica, Cristian Tanase, Bogdan Stancu, Dorin Goian, Razvan Cocis; Florin Gardos.

France - Hugo Lloris; Bacary Sagna, Adil Rami, Eric Abidal, Patrice Evra; Alou Diarra, Yann Mvila, Marvin Martin, Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery; Karim Benzema.


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