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Soccer-Benzema inspires France to 2-0 win over Dutch

Reuters

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By Julien Pretot

PARIS, March 5 (Reuters) - A razor-sharp Karim Benzema led France to a stylish 2-0 home victory over fellow World Cup finalists the Netherlands in a friendly on Wednesday.

The French were greatly helped by the miserable performance of the visitors' defence as the Dutch back four were repeatedly outpaced on a springlike Parisian night that marked the end of the Oranje's 17-game unbeaten run.

In-form Benzema opened the scoring with a fierce half volley in the 32nd minute before Blaise Matuidi doubled the tally with a spectacular volley four minutes before the break.

"I like the result, the way we played and our attitude," France coach Didier Deschamps told a news conference.

"He's (Benzema) in the same form as with Real Madrid. When he's at this level, it's interesting for us," Deschamps said.

The Netherlands, without the injured Arjen Robben, came closest to scoring when Robin van Persie's first-half volley was parried away by Hugo Lloris.

"For the World Cup we will have to be focused for the whole 90 minutes and we cannot lose so many balls in the midfield," Dutch coach Louis van Gaal said.

"The problem is that we lost focus after only half an hour."

The Dutch started with two uncapped players, Quincy Promes and Jean-Paul Boetius as coach Louis van Gaal looked to experiment ahead of the World Cup.

Van Persie started the game after recovering from a bout of sickness but Robben was not even on the match sheet because of a thigh injury.

UNCAPPED PLAYERS

France coach Didier Deschamps had Bayern Munich midfielder Franck Ribery on the bench while forward Antoine Griezmann was the only uncapped player to start.

In central defence for France, Raphael Varane was paired with Eliaquim Mangala in place of usual starter Laurent Koscielny, who was suffering from a groin problem.

France had the first clear chance in the 19th minute when Benzema's header from Griezmann's cross was cleared off the line by defender Ron Vlaar with the keeper beaten.

The Netherlands, who dominated possession early on, typically relied on their wingers to threaten the French goal.

But it was Van Persie who forced Lloris into a spectacular save with a sudden half-volley from inside the box on the half hour.

Benzema's half volley, however, went straight past Jasper Cillessen after the Real Madrid striker, nicely set up by Matuidi, easily outpaced the slow Dutch defence in the 32nd minute for his 19th France goal.

The visitors' back four were once again caught snoozing shortly before halftime, leaving Valbuena with all the necessary time to send a perfect cross to Matuidi, who twisted in the air and volleyed past Cillessen.

Van Gaal, however, did not blame his back line.

"Our defenders were in position for the first 25 minutes and then we lost it a bit after the first goal," he said.

"But it's not the defence's fault. I think we can blame it on the balls we lost in the midfield."

Deschamps gave Lucas Digne a chance to prove himself after the break when he replaced Patrice Evra but there was little defensive work for the Paris St Germain left back.

Valbuena, who showed great pace on the right wing, was replaced by Ribery as Deschamps looked to rest the Olympique Marseille player ahead of Friday's Ligue 1 home game against Nice.

France start their World Cup against Honduras on June 15 in Group E, which also features Switzerland and Ecuador, while the Dutch will be in action against world champions Spain on June 13 in Group B, with Chile and Australia also in their pool. (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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