Week 30 newsletter week 30 Ancelotti wants Beckham to stay Carlo Ancelotti hopes David Beckham will sign a new deal at Paris Saint-Germain and remain at the Parc des Princes beyond the end of this season

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Week 30


Ancelotti wants Beckham to stay

Carlo Ancelotti hopes David Beckham will sign a new deal at Paris Saint-Germain and remain at the Parc des Princes beyond the end of this


When he joined in January, Beckham only signed a deal through to June, but Ancelotti believes the former England captain need not hang up his

boots in the summer nor look for another employer for the 2013-14 campaign.

"I would really like Beckham to extend his contract here, but as I've said before, it's a decision the player has to take with the club. But I'm in favour of

it," the Italian said.

Beckham is likely to play some part in Friday's Ligue 1 encounter with reigning champions Montpellier Hérault SC as Ancelotti shuffles his pack with

one eye on Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final first-leg with Barcelona. The former AC Milan and Chelsea coach shrugged off suggestions

Beckham's five-day trip to China during the international break had been a source of conflict within the club.

"The reason he went to China is because everyone agreed that he could. There's no problem. Not for me, not for the club, not for the players. I also

agreed he could go, and didn't understand the debate his trip stirred up. He had commitments before signing for PSG. Some had a holiday during the

international break, he went to China. He didn't have a holiday, as I read somewhere, he just had an extra day of rest compared to the other players

who stayed here."

The rise and rise of Mathieu Valbuena

Mathieu Valbuena and the man who helped him flourish at OM, former coach Eric Gerets, talk about the little playmaker's rise to the very


Over the last 12 months, Valbuena's status has changed. The pocket-sized Marseille playmaker has become the creative fulcrum of Didier

Deschamps' resurgent France team, inspiring Les Bleus in their bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

And yet, Valbuena's destiny as the successor to Zinedine Zidane in wearing the blue number 10 shirt could not have seemed more implausible a

decade ago when he was released by the Bordeaux youth academy. Too small, not tough enough, not talented enough, Valbuena had to put up with

all of these slights as his childhood dream was torn to shreds.

"It's tough when you're told from one day to the next that your hopes have been shattered," he told beIN Sport. "You have to be mentally strong

because they're telling you that you're not going to be a professional footballer, or at least not at this particular club."

Valbuena may be small but he has a big heart and he showed that by picking himself up and bouncing back in amateur football, before joining third

division outfit Libourne-Saint-Seurin in 2004.

"You have two solutions," he said. "Either you give up football and try to find work here and there. Or you keep working. I was lucky enough to have a

lot of supportive people around me and a father who instilled good values in me, teaching me never to give up, and that gave me a steely mentality,


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and to keep fighting."

With the odds stacked against him, the 5ft 5in midfielder stood tall and climbed back up the football ladder. Valbuena's fight and skill shone through,

and after being voted player of the year in the third division, he got his big break, signing for Marseille in 2006.

"It was a big step up for me, but I love a challenge," he admits now. "I had an opportunity to join Rennes as well, but I chose Marseille because this

club suits my character. There's so much passion for football here. When I arrived there were guys like Franck Ribéry, Samir Nasri, Djibril Cissé, Bolo

Zenden... They're big names and we had a strong team.

"People didn?t look at me in the same way, I'd come from the lower leagues. I was a nobody and had to prove myself all over again. It was difficult."

Injured or out of favour, Valbuena started just two league games in his first season at the Stade Vélodrome, but  the arrival of Eric Gerets as coach in

September 2007 changed everything.

"When he first came into the dressing room he said, 'listen guys, I've only got two days of training with you, I honestly don't know any of you, so I'll

simply pick the players who impress me the most.' It was during the pre?match preparations he told me, 'you're my number 10 and I want you to play

your natural game'."

On 3rd October, 2007 - four years after being released by Bordeaux - Valbuena's career finally took off as he scored a stunning winner at Liverpool.

Gerets, now coaching Qatari champions Lekhwiya, recalls: "When I picked him for the first time in the Champions League at Liverpool, I don't think

many others believed in him."

"It was my European debut, against Liverpool, away to Liverpool," adds Valbuena. "I'd probably played only ten times in Ligue 1 at that point, maybe

15. I was really thrown in at the deep end."

Valbuena had found another father figure in Gerets and flourished during his two seasons under the Belgian taskmaster.

"He knows I like him," adds Gerets. "He sensed that from the start. And maybe that's why I was always tougher on him than with the others."

"People often said I was his favourite," says Valbeuna. "Ok, but at the same time he used to pick on the slightest thing. He used to scream at me. And

I liked his directness."

Valbuena's problems weren't over yet though. When Deschamps replaced Gerets at the Marseille helm in 2009, the midfielder again found himself out

of favour.

"It was a tough time, of course. I was playing every game under Eric Gerets and then the new coach arrived and didn't show the same faith in me. It's

hard to accept. It's true that at one point I told the club I wanted them to let me leave because I didn't want to accept being on the bench."

Valbuena isn't one to give up, though, and he duly forced his way into the heart of Deschamps' plans, sparkling in Marseille's charge to their first

league title for 18 years in 2010.


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"I still remember something the coach said to me when we were on a TV show together after winning the league against Rennes," he recalls. "I

opened a bottle of champagne and sprayed it on him. He said, 'Mathieu, six months ago, you'd have thrown the bottle at me'."

Valbuena is now Marseille's longest-serving and best player. Indeed, if Elie Baup's side qualify for next season's Champions League, it will be largely

thanks to their brilliant playmaker. "Nowadays it's difficult to imagine the French national team or Marseille playing without him," says Gerets. This

time, France coach Deschamps would surely agree.

Gradel blow for Les Verts

AS Saint-Etienne have been dealt a blow with the news that winger Max-Alain Gradel faces a long spell on the sidelines with a serious knee


Gradel, 25, suffered a ruptured cruciate knee ligament as well as a meniscus injury during a training session while on international duty with the Ivory

Coast last week, with Saint-Etienne only discovering the extent of the problem upon the player's return to the club.

The former Leeds United player has already consulted a surgeon and is set to be sidelined for six months. It is the latest piece of bad news for Les

Verts, who lost midfielder Jérémy Clément for the remainder of the season when he suffered a broken leg during the 4-0 win against Nice earlier this


Gradel has made 23 appearances in Ligue 1 this season, starting on 16 occasions and scoring three goals. Unbeaten in 2013, Saint-Etienne are

fourth in Ligue 1 and travel to ESTAC Troyes on Saturday afternoon. They also have the Coupe de la Ligue final to look forward to against Stade

Rennais FC next month.

PSG to face Real Madrid

PSG will face Real Madrid in July as part of a pre-season tour to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Swedish homeland.

The capital club have announced that they will be in Sweden from July 19-27 for a tour aimed at helping the development of the Paris Saint-Germain

brand internationally. PSG will visit the capital Stockholm and then the second-largest city Gothenburg.

They will face Spanish giants Real Madrid on July 27 at Gothenburg's Ullevi Stadium in what will be the fifth meeting of the two clubs. Their last

confrontation came in the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1994, when PSG won 2-1 on aggregate.

Prior to that, Carlo Ancelotti's team will take on Swedish second-tier outfit Hammarby IF at the new Tele2 Arena in Stockholm. Tickets for that match

are on sale as of Thursday, March 28 via the website ticnet.se, while tickets for the Real Madrid clash will be on sale as of April 2.


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Govou not giving up

Despite having to undergo surgery for a ruptured cruciate ligament, Evian attacking midfielder Sidney Govou is vowing to fight tooth and

nail to make it back to the highest level.

Despite Evian bagging an important 2-1 win at Lille's Grand Stade in Week 29, there was some shocking news for the Haute-Savoie side as France

international Sidney Govou (49 caps, ten goals) was stretchered off the pitch in the closing stages with a ruptured cruciate ligament in his left knee.

The victim of a snapped Achilles tendon in each of the last two seasons, Govou has once again gone under the knife for his latest injury. The

procedure was reported as successful, and the 33-year-old has said he will not let this latest setback - which will see him out of action for the rest of

the season, not returning until October at the earliest - stop him.

"I'm not an anxious person by nature," he smiled in admirably positive fashion. "The people around me are a lot more worried than I am. I'm trying to

reassure them! Some people are saying, 'Damn, how frustrating, what are you going to do?' But it's not the end of the world. I'll walk again, and I'll run

again. If everything goes well, I'll play football again too."

Govou spent 13 seasons with Lyon, winning seven French titles, before a short-lived stint in Greece with Panathinaikos in 2010 ended with his move

to recently promoted Evian in the summer of 2011. The veteran midfielder has made 328 Ligue 1 appearances in his long career, and his goal in the

2-2 draw in Caen in Week 24 last season was his 50th strike in France's top flight.

Amalfitano on the comeback trail

After a month out with a knee injury, OM midfielder Morgan Amalfitano has resumed training and could be available to help his side get

back on track away to in-form Nice on Sunday afternoon.

Amalfitano's absence has coincided with a run of poor form (two 2-0 losses to PSG and consecutive 0-0 draws with Lyon and Ajaccio) that has seen

Marseille's grip on third place - and the Champions League qualifying ticket that goes with it come the end of the season - weaken, but the attacking

midfielder has now resumed full training.

His left knee had been giving him to trouble for some time before, in consultation with club medical staff, the ex-Lorient playmaker opted to spend two

weeks at a sports clinic to deal with the problem head-on.

The stint proved successful and now Amalfitano could well be included in coach Elie Baup's side to travel to Nice's Stade du Ray on Sunday, where

OM can keep in-form Saint-Etienne - who are breathing down OM's neck, just two points adrift - at bay with a win.

Meanwhile England's Joey Barton, who has been suffering from a groin strain, is yet to resume training, as is Kassim Abdallah (thigh), while

Amalfitano's former Lorient teammate Alaixys Romao is training separately after returning from a World Cup qualifier with Togo (a 2-1 loss to



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Rémi still en Garde for title

Despite trailing leaders Paris Saint-Germain by five points, Lyon coach Rémi Garde continues to believe in his side's chances of taking out

an eighth Ligue 1 title.

OL's recent run of two draws and a heavy 4-1 defeat have seen the seven-time French champions fall five points behind PSG after being

neck-and-neck with the title favourites for several weeks, but Garde refuses to concede that the ultra-rich capital club are shoe-ins for the Lige 1 title

this season.

"As long as it's mathematically possible for us to claim top spot come the end of the season, we will continue to believe in our chances," the OL boss

told Canal Football Club nine matches out from the end of the season. "For sure, with only two wins in our last seven matches, we're not showing

enough, but internally, among the squad, I can feel that the players also believe that we can do it."

Belief will play a strong part in any revival Lyon can put together, with Les Gones still to face in-form sides Saint-Etienne, Nice and Paris before all is

said and done for season 2012-13.

"A lot can still happen between now and the end of the season," he continued. "It will be a tough run of matches, but my hopes are high for the end of

the season. We need to keep the financial side of things at the club separate from the sporting side. I have a young squad in which there are many

youngsters who are just entering the highest level, but the pressure simply serves to intensify the competition in the squad. But we can't get ahead of

ourselves. Our primary objective is give the maximum out on the pitch."

OL have a chance to get back on track in the coming weeks, with Sochaux, Reims, Toulouse and Montpellier on the cards, and Garde is hoping that

star playmaker Yoann Gourcuff, whose injury troubles this season have limited him to a handful of appearances, can help his side into position to

make Week 36's clash with PSG a real six-pointer.

"Yoann has been terribly handicapped by injuries this season. He's a player who has had more than his fair share of injuries and it has hindered his

progress considerably," said Garde of the France international who has made just eight Ligue 1 appearances, three in the Europa League and one in

the Coupe de la Ligue. "He's a great player but he needs to show more, give more and bring more to the team. And I hope it happens sooner rather

than later."

Zitte spot on for pro deal at Nancy

AS Nancy-Lorraine striker Florent Zitte has signed his first professional contract and has taken possession of the number 17 shirt at the

Lorraine club coached by Patrick Gabriel.

Zitte, 19, marked his first Ligue 1 start with a crucial goal in Nancy's 2-1 win at fellow strugglers Sochaux in Week 27 and his form could prove crucial

to the division's basement club's survival prospects. Nancy are five points behind 17th-placed Brest and have an inferior goal difference.

Zitte said: "I've taken the number 17 because I was born on May 17. I can't wait to wear it for the first time. I am emotional because I've signed my first

professional contract at the club where I've come through the ranks. I've always dreamed about this moment. A few months ago I wasn't thinking about

this and today I'm a professional. I cannot ask for more than that."


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Gabriel said: "What happened in the January transfer window accelerated things because places in the first-team squad were freed up. Five players

left the club and Florent's performances led to his inclusion, his first goal, and the fact that he's now a first-team squad regular."

Zitte added: "The story is not over and I still have a lot to prove but the minimum has been achieved. It won't be easy because there's a lot of

competition for places so I'll have to give everything in training."

Come and watch a match this Easter!

The LFP has teamed up with the charity Secours Populaire to encourage families in difficulty to come and watch a match in France on

Easter weekend.

For the second season running, the LFP has teamed up with the Union of Professional Football Clubs (UCPF) to dedicate Week 30 of the Ligue 1

season to helping the charity Secours Populaire (Help for All). The French Football Federation (FFF) has also decided to lend its weight to the initiative

at Friday's World Cup qualifier between France and Georgia at the Stade de France.

Throughout the year, volunteers from the Secours Populaire charity give their help to those in difficulty throughout France, particularly to the socially

excluded. In the short-term, that help can come via food, clothing, emergency shelter or access to healthcare. Over the longer term, they help provide

access to housing and healthcare as well as holidays, and cultural, leisure and sporting activities. Secours Populaire also help people in difficulty along

the road in the world of work.

The work done by the charity's 80,000 volunteers is essential, but there are more and more people of all ages now knocking at the doors of the 1,256

welcome centres run by Secours Populaire. In 2012, requests for help increased by 15-20 percent across France, with a total of 2.5 million people

receiving aid from Secours Populaire.

It is to help deal with this increased demand that the FFF, LFP and UCPF have decided to come together by doing the following:

-          Inviting families in difficulty to come and watch matches via the Pâques au Stade ! (Easter at the Stadium) initiative.

-          Appealing to fans to make donations and/or become volunteers.

Donations will go towards helping those in urgent need of shelter or food, but also towards those with apparently less urgent, but equally necessary,

requirements. These include simply being able to watch a match together as a family, a 'luxury' that is often beyond financial reach for many. And the

Secours Populaire needs volunteers to be able to function. Thousands of volunteers give up their time either regularly or just occasionally.

Before matches over Easter weekend, appeals for donations and volunteers will be made by clubs on their websites and via social networks. Families

supported by the charity will be invited to attend games, while other initiatives will include:

-          Stalls outside stadia


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-          Collections in stands

-          Adverts for the Secours Populaire on big screens

-          Loud speaker and on-screen messages

There will be much more activity besides and, thanks to the 21 matches involved in the initiative (all those in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 as well as France v

Georgia), Secours Populaire will be able to reach out to more than 300,000 spectators and many millions more watching on television.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Ibra cleared to face Barca

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's two-match suspension was halved by UEFA's Appeals Body, meaning PSG's top scorer is free to play against

Barcelona in their Champions League quarter-final clash at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be available to play both legs of Paris Saint-Germain's UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash with FC Barcelona after

European football's governing body reduced the Swede?s suspension from two matches to one.

The 31-year-old was sent off in the first leg of PSG's last 16 meeting with Valencia after an injury time foul on Andres Guardado. Italian referee Paolo

Tagliavento gave Ibrahimovic his marching orders for what he deemed a dangerous challenge, and the striker duly missed the second leg at the Parc

de Princes as Carlo Ancelotti's side sealed a 3-2 win on aggregate.

PSG - whose last Champions League campaign ended at the group stage in 2004 - contested the suspension with UEFA's Appeals Body, who

confirmed on their website that Ibrahimovic's ban would be halved and that he had therefore already served his punishment:

"Following PSG's appeal, the UEFA Appeals Body has decided to commute the suspension to one match, which Ibrahimovic served in the second leg

against Valencia in Paris on March 6. He will now be available for the French side?s quarter-final opener against his old team, Barcelona, on


It comes as welcome news to Ancelotti, who has Ibrahimovic to thank for over half of his team's goals this season. Ibrahimovic scored 16 goals in 29

games for Barcelona in an unhappy two year spell under Pep Guardiola from 2009 to 2011. The Sweden international has since flourished, and will

hope to add to his haul of 27 goals in all competitions from this campaign next Tuesday, before the return leg at the Camp Nou on 10 April.

LES BLEUS: Spain back on top

France slipped to second place in World Cup qualifying Group I after falling to a 1-0 loss to Spain at the Stade de France on Tuesday night,

Pedro scoring opportunistically (58') to take back pole position for the world champions.

It was night of mixed fortunes for France as they managed to mix it with their illustrious visitors, defending solidly and carving out some dangerous



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However, their inability to score a crucial goal paved the way for Pedro's 58th-minute strike to clinch the result that sent Les Bleus back to second

place in the group with a number of suspensions - for Yohan Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi, who both received yellow cards, and Paul Pogba, who saw red -

to work around in their next qualifier, away to Georgia in September.

After a first half that saw Franck Ribéry miss a golden opportunity to open the scoring - his attempted nutmeg hitting the onrushing Victor Valdes' leg

before being cleared - France came out swinging in the second term. Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny came close to nodding home Mathieu Valbuena's

cross, but again Valdes was equal to the task and boxed clear (50').

As France stepped up the physical pressure in an effort to disrupt the visitors fluid passing game, the yellow cards piled up and Spain took advantage,

with Andres Iniesta drawing a fingertip save from Hugo Lloris before Pedro pounced on a loose ball in the box to poach the only goal of the game (58').

The goal was real blow for France - for whom a draw or a win would have meant holding onto top spot in the group and staking a serious claim on

direct qualification for the World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014 - but Deschamps' continued to push, even after going down to ten men when Pogba

received his second yellow, for a dangerous tackle on Xavi (79').

Indeed, Ribéry - France's most dangerous player, who ran Spain right-back Alvaro Arbeloa ragged - went within centimetres of an equaliser with a

rasping shot from 20 metres out (84'), and Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra saw his point-blank header from a Valbuena cross palmed away

(86') as Les Bleus pinned Spain down in the final stages.

But in the end it was a case of close but no cigar for Deschamps' men, whose chances at topping Group I took a blow, with any eventual qualification

for the World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014 most likely to come through securing second place in the group before fighting through the play-off round

against another second-placed side in November.

Deschamps: 'We had more opportunities'

France coach Didier Deschamps lamented Paul Pogba's sending off in defeat to Spain, though praised his team's performance against the

defending world and European champions.

Didier Deschamps (France coach): "We attacked them more than they would have liked, but they had more control, more experience. This is a team

who have three titles to their name, and they did what they do best. Spain had a lot of possession but that is not a surprise. The most annoying thing is

that we had more opportunities than them and in the first half we were able to defend well, but don't forget the team we were up against. We battled

hard and the result is disappointing. Even when Paul Pogba was sent off, we managed to threaten a team with a lot of skill and experience. It was

difficult at times because Spain use a lot of width. It was a team performance from us and I will not highlight any players who didn't play well. Spain are

such a quality side and it was very difficult to defend against such quality players. There is a lot of debate about Karim Benzema, unfortunately, but it

does neither him nor us any favours. Karim was part of the team tonight and he played well. He did not score but he was involved in the build-up play

and he made things interesting. As for Pogba and Yohan Cabaye in midfield, Pogba received two yellow cards very quickly, which was harsh, and

Yohan was fit to play even though he was injured recently."

Hugo Lloris (France 'keeper and captain): "It came down to the small details tonight. We know that everything is still possible but the Spaniards took


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their chance. It's a shame as it was a great opportunity to remain top of the group, but we did not get the result we wanted. We attacked Spain

head-on and we created a lot of chances, as you saw tonight. Just as in our meeting at Euro 2012, we couldn?t find a way through. However, when

you look at our last two games against Spain it is encouraging - because they are the best team in the world - and we felt in control and had more

possession of the ball. We had the chance to equalise but unfortunately we didn?t capitalise. There were other chances to score as well."

Blaise Matuidi (France midfielder): "We are disappointed after the defeat. We were up against a strong team but we had chances to score. It was more

difficult when we went down to ten men. There are still three matches left to play and nothing is decided yet. They had a lot of possession but we gave

them some trouble. We lacked focus in certain areas but we created opportunities too, but let's face it, a great team like Spain find solutions. Speaking

about Karim Benzema, we did not need the negative press. I understand the fans' frustration, but on the pitch he gives you everything."

Karim Benzema (France striker): "We're disappointed, of course. We wanted to win this game and overall it was a good game. And then a mistake and

they score. It is the small details. The idea was to play our game and I think we put them in danger. Of course it is now going to be difficult to win the

group but we believe they can still play a bad game."

Vicente Del Bosque (Spain coach): "This is welcome three points that improves our position in the standings, and we were faithful to our style of play

so we are happy. We have a fairly stable pool of players, which is our strength. Everyone knows their role and fulfils their task, which makes it difficult

for me because I am forced to make choices. This match had nothing to do with the 1-1 draw against Finland. France threatened us in the beginning.

Benzema was dangerous. France tried to play like Finland did but it was not the same game. However, there was good ball movement and width in

the game. It was also a big battle in midfield, but there are still enough games left to play that we can slip up. The group is not won yet."

Sergio Ramos (Spain defender): "A game at this level is always complicated. We were against a team that tried to dominate the game, but eventually

we found a way to cope with them and we got the desired outcome. Most of the players involved played in our victory over them at Euro 2012, so that

gave us a bit of reassurance. We tried to get the win from the first minute. Raphael Varane is a great defender. I always say that, and not just because

I play beside him at Real Madrid. He has a bright future. We know that Karim Benzema is a great player. He would be hard to replace for both club

and country."

France move into pole position

France moved clear at the top of World Cup qualifying Group I after a 3-1 win over Georgia at the Stade de France on Friday evening.

After an often difficult opening period, Les Bleus took the lead just before the interval when Olivier Giroud headed home a Mathieu Valbuena free-kick,

and the little Marseille man then increased the lead within two minutes of the restart before Franck Ribéry added the third. Alexander Kobakhidze

pulled one back for the visitors with 20 minutes remaining.

The win leaves France on ten points from four games in Group I, two points ahead of leaders Spain, who were surprisingly held to a 1-1 draw by

Finland, before the two nations meet in a crunch clash in Saint-Denis on Tuesday. Georgia, meanwhile, are six points behind in third and have played

a game more.

As expected, France coach Didier Deschamps handed first caps to Real Madrid centre-back Raphaël Varane and Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba,

while Giroud and Karim Benzema were paired together in attack in a 4-4-2 formation against a Georgia side who were expected to defend in numbers.


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It looked as if the visitors were going to be in for a long night when Ribéry cut in from the left and smashed a curling shot off the bar in the sixth minute

and France, wearing an all-sky blue kit, certainly started brightly. The only thing lacking was a finishing touch, with Giroud and Benzema linking up well

before the latter saw his effort from close in saved by Georgia goalkeeper Giorgi Loria.

However, that inability to put the ball in the net was starting to irritate the Stade de France crowd when Giroud tried to lob Loria and missed the target

when clean through with half an hour on the clock. The Arsenal man lacked composure, as did Benzema, who skewed a shot wide after a driving run

forward from left-back by Gaël Clichy that deserved better.

The Georgians, who had run Spain close before going down to a narrow 1-0 defeat in Tbilisi in September, were now growing in confidence and

beginning to create chances of their own. They should have scored when Kobakhidze's cross from the right found captain Aleksander Amisulashvili in

the box, but his header from point-blank range was saved by Hugo Lloris.

Lloris then had to be at his very best to keep out a terrific strike from distance by the Arsenal Kiev midfielder Kobakhidze, and it is tempting to wonder

what the outcome of this game might have been had France not snatched the opening goal seconds before the half-time whistle. Valbuena delivered

the dead ball from the right wing and Giroud headed home expertly for his third international goal.

Valbuena is a man in form and he made it 2-0 just after the restart with a marvellous finish. After being picked out by Ribéry, the diminutive number

eight took a touch and beat Loria with an early shot from 20 yards into the far corner.

Benzema's own troubles in front of goal showed no signs of letting up when he failed to beat Loria after finding himself clean through, but Deschamps'

men kept on pouring forward and were rewarded with a third goal an hour in. Valbuena picked out Ribéry with a fine pass, although the Bayern Munich

man still had plenty to do as he held off Zurab Khizanishvili before slotting inside the near post.

Georgia deservedly pulled a goal back in the 71st minute when Kobakhidze converted after the French defence had failed to properly clear their lines.

But this was a satisfying victory that sets Les Bleus up nicely for the coming test against the Spanish.

Deschamps: 'Spain are better than us'

France coach Didier Deschamps quickly turned his thoughts to Tuesday's 2014 World Cup qualifier with Spain after seeing Les Bleus ease

atop Group I by beating Georgia.

Didier Deschamps (France coach): "Things would have been perfect if we hadn't conceded a goal, but we've achieved our objective in picking up three

points. It wasn't easy, but the goal before half-time did us a lot of good. The difficulty in these kinds of games is to open the score. It's not the right

solution to play against Spain and just defend, but they're going to make us defend. A victory would be a good result, but a draw too. But we'll still have

three games left, including two away games, so we'll have to try and play to win. It's better to play Spain being two points ahead of them, but we

mustn't get carried away. The best team will be the one against us. The match ahead of us will be complicated and difficult, but there's no reason to be

apprehensive. We're going to battle while recognising the potential of Spain."

Olivier Giroud (France forward): "There were many good things, we created a lot of chances, even though not everything was perfect. It's great to have


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scored, especially as I'd missed a chance beforehand. I was a bit annoyed with myself, but I reacted with the best possible response I can give. The

4-4-2 changed things a bit, but we were still dangerous going forward. I think the fans got what they paid for. Benzema and I try to find each other, but

there are still things that need working on. Spain are going to have the balll, but now we can wait for them. It gives you a lot of confidence to be top of

the group."

Hugo Lloris (France goalkeeper and captain): "It's a good result and we're also delighted to hear Spain drew, even if that changes nothing for

Tuesday's game. We'll still have to put in a great display. It doesn't really change the context. It's still just a game with three points at stake. We know

how good the Spanish are, they're capable of coming here and winning. We mustn't slacken off. We play every game to win. We put in a lot of effort

tonight. Against a compact side, we managed to find solutions and make them chase the ball. It's encouraging. The only negative thing is that we

conceded a goal."

Take a bow, Valbuena

Mathieu Valbuena was the star of the show as France inched closer to the 2014 World Cup finals by beating Georgia with the Olympique de

Marseille midfielder having a hand in all three of his country's goals.

It is remarkable to think that when Didier Deschamps took over at OM in 2009, Valbuena was initially deemed surplus to requirements. A permanent

fixture in the first team at the Stade Vélodrome, the diminutive midfielder now has the same status with Deschamps' Bleus. He cemented that standing

with two assists sandwiching a brilliant half-volley into the top corner of the Georgian net just after half-time to relieve the tension at the Stade de

France on Friday.

"I don't pick and choose my goals, but it's true that it's a good one. I just shot out of instinct. It was important, particularly against a team which was

difficult to get round. The goal of Olivier [Giroud] just before half-time also did us a huge amount of good," said Valbuena, who teed up the former

Montpellier Hérault SC man's strike in the closing seconds of the first half. "It's a good performance, from me too because I helped decide the game. I

try to just go along my merry way with determination and humility. I get on well with my team-mates, I feel at ease. When you have the trust of your

coach, you play with more freedom."

"I use him in an attacking role in which he can be decisive with his passes and goals. He's maintaining the level he had in the games in October and

November," said Deschamps afterwards. "Valbuena proves with each international that we can count on him," added Paris Saint-Germain midfielder

Blaise Matuidi, who featured alongside the OM man.

As good as his goal was, the ex-Girondins de Bordeaux youth academy product outdid himself with a glorious volleyed crossfield ball which led to

Franck Ribéry adding a third to help Deschamps' men ease to a 3-1 win. The victory was all the sweeter as news of Spain's draw with Finland filtered

through, leaving France top of Group I, two points clear of the reigning world and European champions, who arrive in Paris on Tuesday.

"I hope we'll show that we're up to the size of the task," said Valbuena. "We'll start the game with more confidence. We had to beat Georgia. It'll be a

match which decides top spot in the group. They'll be a little wary as we caught them out in the first game, particularly with our fine second-half

display. But they're still the best team in the world."


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Week 30

Valbuena proud to be France's number ten

OM midfielder Mathieu Valbuena has nailed down a starting place in the France side in recent months, but the diminutive playmaker isn't

about to rest on his laurels for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Spain.

Let go by the Bordeaux youth academy due to his small size, Valbuena cut his teeth in the National (D3) with Libourne before making the step up to

Marseille in 2006, and since then his talent, rock-hard work ethic and mental strength have earned him a central role for both club and country. And he

takes his role very seriously.

"Being a first-team regular involves a lot of responsibility," he said in the press conference for Friday night's World Cup qualifier against Georgia at the

Stade de France, where he is set to earn his 20th cap. "I'm playing in a position I love, the number ten, and I have a lot of responsibilities, but that's

also the case in every position."

Valbuena's fearless, never-say-die attitude has not only helped him to the top of French football, but it has also provided him with a knack for stepping

up to the plate in big games, as in the 1-1 World Cup qualifier in Spain and the 2-1 friendly win against Italy in October and November 2012, to the

point where coach Didier Deschamps has come to rely on him.

"It's something I never imagined would happen. I'm incredibly proud to be playing for France, so to do so wearing the number ten is something

amazing," said the former right-sided attacking midfielder, who has adapted well to his more central role. "I have responsibilities and it means a lot to

me to live up to them. It has gone pretty well so far, with the exception of the last match [a 2-1 friendly loss to Germany in Feburary]. I'm trying to play

this role as best I can."

Valbuena admitted that his time with the France set-up hasn't all been wine and roses, however.

"I've had disappointments, like at Euro 2012, where I didn't play a single minute," he revealed. "It was important for me to get back to work and ask

myself the tough questions. I just have to keep working hard with a lot of determination and humility."

However, with Deschamps tipped to field a 4-4-2 formation against Georgia, with Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema up front, Valbuena could find

himself out on the right again, in a more attacking role.

"I'm used to playing in a central role, where my job is to pull the strings and play my teammates in," said the midfielder with eight assists in the league

this season, but only two strikes. "But I could certainly improve in terms of scoring goals. I'm not doing too badly with assists, but if I could score as

many goals as I set up, I'd be happy."

He may not score so many goals, but he does have an eye for the spectacular - as he proved with the stunning winner in OM's 1-0 Champions League

triumph in Liverpool in 2007 - and both Georgia and Spain would do well to keep an eye on 'le petit vélo'.


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Week 30

Matuidi keeping his head down

PSG and France midfielder Blaise Matuidi is happy to let his impressive performances do the talking, leaving others to measure the

importance of the player Carlo Ancelotti says 'is one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe'.

Under the threat of suspension should he pick up another yellow card with France, Matuidi may be left out of Didier Deschamps France side to face

Georgia in their World Cup qualifier at the Stade de France on Friday.

Such is the 25-year-old's importance to Les Bleus that Deschamps may not be prepared to risk being without the tireless midfielder in next Tuesday's

Group I summit clash with Spain.

However, Matuidi himself isn't too interested in talking about his stellar season, the consistency and the massive work-rate that have seen him already

play 47 matches this season - 14 more than he played all last season, and more than anyone else in the France side.

"I don't like assessing myself too much, it's not in my nature. That's how I am. The less I say, the better I play, and I'll let the pundits and coaches say

what they have to say," Matuidi explained when asked for a reaction to PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti's claim that he is 'one of the best defensive

midfielders in Europe'. "Coming from one of the best coaches in the world, it's a real compliment. But all that can come and go very quickly, and I need

to do what I can to remain consistent."

Deschamps too has been vocal in his praise of Matuidi's high-level displays, saying he has no concerns "about his capacity to turn in fantastic

perfomances", but has voiced concerns about how much Matuidi is playing.

"It?s the first season where I've played so many matches without picking up an injury, touch wood," he said, tapping the table in front of him. "When I

take a knock, I get a bit scared, but I try to forget it as quickly as possible. Other than that, I'm not so surprised that I'm playing so much. I have the

legs for it. I'm someone who likes to work really hard, who recuperates very quickly."

Fanni surprised by France call

OM right-back Rod Fanni said he wasn't expecting to be part of Didier Deschamps' squad to take on Georgia and Spain in crunch World

Cup qualifiers this week.

With Newcastle's Mathieu Debuchy injured, there was a gap in the France squad at right-back and Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps felt he had the

perfect replacement in the Marseille wing-back.

However, Fanni admits he had no idea he was in the running to fill the vacancy for the two matches that, with wins, could see France stake a serious

claim on topping World Cup qualifying Group I.

"It freaked me out a bit," Fanni said ahead of Friday's clash with Georgia and next Tuesday's meeting with Spain, both of which will be played at the

Stade de France. "I'm not saying that I thought I would never be called up again, but I was getting that way. I had become used to saying 'no' when

someone asked me if I was going to be called up."


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Week 30

Fanni's last appearance for his country dates back to the very first match of the Laurent Blanc era, in August 2010, when the France squad was being

overhauled following the scandal at the World Cup in South Africa. Fanni has no idea why he was called up then dropped, and then left in the cold.

"Even today, I haven't determined what the reason was. I didn't understand then, and I still don't know why I didn't return," the 31-year-old said, also

mystified at not being selected for the World Cup in 2010 after taking part in the entire qualifying process. "Being frozen out just before the tournament

began wasn't very cool at all. I've never felt that I'm inferior to Bacary Sagna, Anthony Réveillère or Mathieu Debuchy."

Fanni, who is enjoying an excellent season at Marseille after making the move from Rennes, could well have a chance to prove that as of this



Ligue de Football Professionnel - 2012/2013 - Ligue1.com


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