Valbuena winner spares France blushes

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LENS - Mathieu Valbuena celebrated his first cap by giving a new-look France side a 2-1 win over Costa Rica in a World Cup warm-up on Wednesday.

Winger Valbuena took advantage of fine work by midfielder Abou Diaby to score the winner seven minutes from time for the former world and European champions, playing in a 4-3-3 formation instead of the usual 4-2-3-1.

Midfielder Carlos Hernandez surprised France keeper Steve Mandanda with a low angled shot from the edge of the box to put Costa Rica ahead on 11 minutes.

France, who played neat football but looked shaky in defence, struck back 11 minutes later with an own goal by defender Douglas Sequeira and they dominated the second half.

During warm-up, the players wore tee-shirts saying "Pour Lass" (For Lass) in a message to midfielder Lassana Diarra, who was ruled out of the World Cup by illness on Saturday.

Coach Raymond Domenech, who has faced heavy criticism since his side's Euro 2008 flop, left captain Thierry Henry on the bench, bringing on the Barcelona forward for the second half.

One piece of good news for Domenech during the game in the northern French mining town of Lens was that centre-back William Gallas, doubtful for the World Cup because of a sore calf, played the first half without any problems.

France, who needed Henry's infamous handball to qualify for the World Cup through a play-off at the expense of Ireland, looked in control for most of the game but need more to suggest they can make an impact in the June 11-July 11 finals.

They had to wait for Valbuena to come on and show his class with an angled shot from the edge of the box to seal victory.

Just back from a week-long training camp in the French Alps, France now cross the Mediterranean sea to play Tunisia before meeting China in the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion.

They then head for South Africa, where they face the hosts, Mexico and Uruguay in Group A.

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