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Belarus breach miserly France to draw in Minsk

Belarus 1-1 France
France conceded their first goal in qualifying since September's defeat by the hosts but nevertheless stayed four points clear at the top of Group D.

Franck Ribéry and Igor Shitov in action in Minsk
Franck Ribéry and Igor Shitov in action in Minsk ©Getty Images

France remain four points clear of Belarus at the top of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group D after the teams drew in Minsk.

Unexpectedly beaten 1-0 by Belarus in their opening fixture of the campaign last September, France had since gone four competitive fixtures without dropping a point or conceding a goal. The latter record was undone 20 minutes in when the returning Éric Abidal inadvertently turned into his own net, though Florent Malouda posted an almost immediate reply to ensure the spoils were shared.

Although home coach Bernd Stange was shorn of a host of regulars, it was his young and vibrant team that started the stronger, with Igor Shitov having their first attempt turned over by Hugo Lloris on 14 minutes. The speed of Timofei Kalachev was proving a particular thorn in Les Bleus' side, but it was a set piece from the Belarus No4 that prompted the opening goal as the unfortunate Abidal beat Lloris when under pressure from Maksim Bordachev.

With Mamadou Sakho, 21, deputising for the injured Philippe Mexès at centre-back, France looked shaky but they were nevertheless swiftly on level terms. Bacary Sagna broke down the right and fed Karim Benzema, who calmly found Malouda for the Chelsea FC's sixth international goal. Buoyed by their equaliser, the visitors nearly went in front before the interval, Franck Ribéry's shot whistling just wide of Sergei Veremko's goal.

The pattern continued in the second half as France assumed the ascendancy, Abou Diaby and Benzema both going close to completing the turnaround. Loïc Rémy was introduced with 17 minutes remaining as coach Laurent Blanc pushed for a winner, yet Belarus stood firm to secure another fine result.

Next for them is the visit of Luxembourg on Tuesday, while France play friendly fixtures against UEFA EURO 2012 co-hosts Poland and Ukraine next week before resuming their qualifying campaign in Albania on 2 September.