Sluggish France struggle to beat Albania

TIRANA - Karim Benzema grabbed one goal and set up another as France claimed a sluggish 2-1 win over Albania in Group D on Friday to stay on course for a place at the Euro 2012 finals.

France top the standings with 16 points from seven games, three points ahead of Bosnia who beat Belarus 2-0 away.

Benzema opened the scoring from inside the area early on and set up midfielder Yann Mvila for the second goal as the visitors got off to a fine start.

France struggled in defence and a mix-up allowed Erjon Bogdani to reduce the arrears just after the break but they held on to take the points after surviving constant pressure.

They now face Romania away on Tuesday before finishing their qualifying campaign at home to Albania and Bosnia next month.

"I am satisfied. We came to win and we did just that," France coach Laurent Blanc told French TV channel TF1.

"I saw some nice things. We have been improving up front. We conceded a goal that took out some of our confidence and we then should have scored a third goal.

"Albania played with their weapons, we played with ours. With all due respect to them, we were superior tonight."

France were rewarded for their early domination in the 11th minute when Benzema picked up the ball in the box and unleashed a straight shot that beat Samir Ujkani.

Albania reacted swiftly with a cunning lob by Hamdi Salihi that crashed on to Hugo Lloris's crossbar.

In the 18th minute, Mvila benefited from a fine set-up by Benzema to double the tally with a fine curled shot into the top corner.

Albania, however, stepped up a gear. Lloris was made to work, superbly palming to safety an Ansi Agolli volley at the half-hour mark.

Les Bleus showed some nice attacking football in the first half but they struggled at the back as Laurent Blanc had to cope with the absence of the injured Philippe Mexes and the suspended Adil Rami.

France were caught off guard less than one minute into the second half when a mix-up involving Lloris, Eric Abidal and Younes Kaboul allowed Erjon Bogdani to reduce the arrears from close-range.

The visitors failed to react and it took another brilliant save by Lloris of an Ervin Bulku missile to deny Albania on the hour.

A Kaboul header and a Samir Nasri attempt hit the post in the closing stages but that was all France had to show for themselves in a miserable second half.