For most of the England squad, with the exception of debutants Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Jay Bothroyd, the midweek 2-0 loss to France will not live long in the memory. It was another below average performance and the latest indication that Fabio Capello’s men are playing catch-up on the international stage.

This friendly pitted together two teams still licking their wounds from major underachievement this summer. If England’s World Cup was disappointing, France’s tournament was woeful and embarrassing. From lacklustre displays to training ground walk-outs, this summer was one long nightmare for the French.

But in contrast to England, France have been revitalised since then. New boss Laurent Blanc, who built his reputation at Bordeaux, has transformed the disinterested bunch from the World Cup, bringing in a fresh, attacking approach. The French are young, creative and determined to bounce back from recent setbacks.


At Wembley, they were almost flawless. Florent Malouda, Samir Nasri and Yoann Gourcuff caused mayhem with their passing and movement while Karim Benzema thrived as the focal point of the attack. The quartet have all dominated in Ligue 1 during the course of their careers and are perfectly suited to Blanc’s formation.

It should be noted that England were without Ashley Cole, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney – four of the team’s key figures. But their absences only highlighted the average performances from their replacements. Carroll did himself no harm with a committed display up front, but he received little support from James Milner, Theo Walcott or Steven Gerrard.

Instead, England were punished for sloppy passing by a French side that does not waste possession. With impressive vision and clever runs, Blanc’s men bore more than a passing resemblance to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal in the Thierry Henry and Robert Pires era.

Capello now has a dilemma on his hands. His big guns let him down in South Africa with their failure to reach the quarter-finals and their window for winning a major international tournament is closing fast. Yet the next tier of talent is not good enough to seriously challenge the established squad members. On Wednesday’s evidence, Terry and company need not worry about their places.

Phil Jagielka was tormented at right back and former club colleague Joleon Lescott had shaky moments of his own as France thoroughly enjoyed their outing at Wembley. In the end, the scoreline did not do justice to the gulf in class between the two teams.

France were indeed unrecognisable from the shambles in South Africa and appear to be going from strength to strength, just adding to Blanc’s impressive managerial credentials. No doubt there will be rumours linking him with the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool in the coming months as he has emerged as one of Europe’s most promising young managers.

As for England, it is currently hard to be sure that Capello knows his best line-up or formation. He has tried numerous options all over the pitch, yet there are still more questions than answers. The Italian has urged fans to be patient, particularly with his younger charges, but the tide seems to be turning against him.

With little leadership on the pitch and few creative sparks to change the game, England seem to be going nowhere fast. The feel-good factor from the start of the Capello era has disappeared completely, with a growing sense that the team has dropped back from the elite. It is fair to say that Spain or Brazil would have run riot against the England side picked at Wembley this week.

The 5-1 demolition of Croatia in qualifying for the World Cup is a distant memory and, on current form, it is hard to imagine England scoring five against anyone, never mind a team that has enjoyed success at international tournaments. All in all, there will be few smiling faces as the players return to their clubs to focus on Premier League action – and this is becoming an all too regular occurrence.

Ironically, it is now France who have the optimism that comes with a refreshing change of management. England fans could be forgiven for wondering whether that is what their team needs too.