Belarus stun France in Paris

by Matthew Spiro

Belarus secured a famous victory after Sergei Kislyak's late goal stunned UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group D favourites France in Laurent Blanc's first competitive game in charge.

Les Bleus rarely clicked into top gear but were nevertheless dominating proceedings when substitute Kislyak struck the killer blow on 86 minutes. The FC Dinamo Minsk midfielder had been on for 11 minutes when he collected Vyacheslav Hleb's cross and side-footed coolly into the top corner. The hosts had been foiled on numerous occasions by Belarus's inspired goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov, but they have now lost four straight games and will need to stop the rot away against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday, when Belarus play host to Romania.

There was a buzz of anticipation at kick-off as the former world champions looked to usher in a new era, yet the home fans had little to cheer in a subdued first half. Blanc picked five survivors from France's FIFA World Cup campaign, but it was two new faces who first combined to dangerous effect, Loic Remy nodding Jeremy Menez's 17th-minute corner wide.

While there was little fluency from Les Bleus, Belarus defended tenaciously and worried Blanc's new-look backline at times. Adil Rami twice saved his team with last-ditch blocks, the LOSC Lille Metropole defender keeping out Aleksandr Kulchiy's drive early on then getting in the way of Vitali Rodionov's dangerous header on 18 minutes.

Zhevnov must have arrived in Paris expecting a busy night but he was not called into action until first-half added time, when he parried a Florent Malouda drive. Belarus's captain needed to be far sharper after the interval, however, conjuring a fine save from a powerful Menez attempt three minutes in. With the visitors struggling to clear, substitute Mathieu Valbuena then cut the ball back neatly only for Guillaume Hoarau to scoop over.

Yann M'Vila was the next to sting Zhevnov's hands as the chances began to pile up, although the visitors might have opened the scoring on 51 minutes. Vyacheslav Hleb's perfectly timed ball split the France defence, but Rodionov shot wide with only Hugo Lloris to beat. It looked like Bernd Stange's men might rue that miss, yet Hoarau headed off target and Valbuena saw his dipping volley pushed over by the superb Zhevnov on 71 minutes.

Indeed, the goalkeeper's heroics seemed to inspire his team-mates, who silenced the Stade de France with Kislyak's clinical goal. Kevin Gameiro almost salvaged a point in added time, but when his strike flew fractionally over the game was up for France.


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