Valbuena wants more than warm-up winner

LENS - Scoring the winner on his France debut is not good enough for Mathieu Valbuena, who dreams of seeing the once-great side heal their wounded pride with a sucessful World Cup run.

The pocket-sized winger, who helped Olympique Marseille win the Ligue 1 title with some dazzling displays, struck late from the edge of the box to secure a 2-1 warm up win over Costa Rica for the former World and European champions on Wednesday.

France, who disappointed their fans with an early exit from Euro 2008 and a have produced a string of uninspiring performances since, looked promising in a new 4-3-3 formation, more exciting than their usual, cautious 4-2-3-1 system.

They did not do quite enough to suggest they would make an impact at the finals in South Africa but that did not stop the 25-year-old Valbuena from making ambitious predictions.

"I couldn't dream of more than a first goal for my first cap but this is just a start," he told reporters. "I can feel a great human adventure starting. We all want to go all the way."

Coach Raymond Domenech, who has faced heavy criticism for years and will be replaced by Laurent Blanc after the World Cup, made a few bold moves.

Not only did he field just one holding midfielder instead of the usual two, he also made captain Thierry Henry, who has had a difficult season with Barcelona, start on the bench and only brought him on 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.

"He (Gallas) played 45 minutes, he will play 60 minutes against Tunisia and 90 against China," Domenech told reporters, looking forward to France's next two warm-up matches.

"This is encouraging," added Domenech, whose side had just returned from a week-long training camp in the French Alps, where the players sounded surprisingly confident and cheerful.

Midfielder Jeremy Toulalan, who played in front of the defence against Costa Rica, shared his coach's opinion.

"This is rather positive, coming after the camp in Tignes, where we worked hard and well," he said. "We're very determined and we have a really balanced team. Everything was not perfect but it will come. We're all hungry and want to shine at the World Cup."

France now cross the Mediterranean sea to play Tunisia on Sunday before meeting China in the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion on June 4th.

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

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