A late penalty from Jimmy Briand booked France's place in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals next summer at the expense of a spirited England side.
René Girard’s France had held the upper hand before tonight's match at a chilly Stade Marcel Picot in Nancy, having achieved a 1-1 draw in Friday's first leg. However, Darren Bent wiped out that away-goal advantage early in the second half before the influential Franck Ribéry restored parity four minutes later. With three minutes remaining, Briand converted from the penalty spot to give France victory on the night and on aggregate.
France started Jérémy Berthod in place of Gaël Clichy, who suffered a broken foot four days ago, while Jérémy Toulalan was replaced by Etienne Didot. England had welcomed back experienced captain Gary O'Neil in place of James Milner in midfield while Nedum Onuoha came in at left-back in place of Peter Whittingham. It was to prove a high-tempo encounter that would certainly have impressed the likes of Sven-Göran Eriksson and Gérard Houllier in the crowd
England began brightly, culminating in Bent hitting the post and Kieran Richardson following up to force a fine save from home goalkeeper Jérémy Gavanon in the ninth minute. Anthony Le Tallec, France's first-leg scorer, then went close with a free-kick before his header from Ribéry's cross forced a fine save from Scott Carson.
It was an evenly-contested first half and the action did not let up after the interval. Carlton Cole flashed a fine drive just wide for England before Bent finally broke the deadlock on the night with his superb header on 55 minutes. However, Olympique de Marseille starlet Ribéry had an instant riposte when he evaded Michael Dawson before firing a 20-metre shot beyond Carson.
With 24 minutes remaining, England coach Peter Taylor showed his attacking intent by bringing on striker Dean Ashton for midfielder Darren Ambrose, who had scored the late first-leg equaliser. Ashton then had a chance to get the winner with a late header from Richardson's cross but it was France who were to finish stronger, underlined when Ribéry burst up the other end, only for a last-ditch tackle from Anton Ferdinand to deny Briand.
Ribéry, the undoubted star turn over the two legs, then produced a fierce shot on goal as he cut in again from the left before unleashing a right-foot effort. That spell of pressure led to the penalty award from Italian official Matteo Trefoloni when Richardson upended Lassana Diarra. Despite the undoubted pressure on his shoulders, Briand stepped up to score low to Carson's right and France were through to the finals.
"The team showed another side of their game tonight as they proved their courage," said France coach Girard. "We were 1-0 behind and found the strength to come back after coming under pressure against a great English team. I want to thank my players and congratulate them."
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