Well-taken first-half goals from Sidney Govou and Olivier Sorlin gave Group 2 favourites France a 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic in the opening game of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Geneva.
France looked accomplished throughout, playing a neat, fast-flowing brand of football, which finally brought to an end the Czech Republic's eleven-game unbeaten run.
The victory delighted France coach Raymond Domenech, who said: "To win 2-0 against the Czechs makes me very satisfied. In the first 15 minutes we were too concerned about the reputation of the Czech team. But then we got into the game and imposed our play on the game and also showed good technical ability."
Kobylík goes close
By the time France had got into their stride, the Czech Republic had already fashioned the first attempt on goal, David Kobylík driving an eleventh-minute shot at goal from long range, only to be denied by France keeper Mickaël Landreau.
A minute later France won a free-kick 22 metres out and the ball was rolled to Stade Rennais FC's Julien Escudé, whose venomous effort sailed narrowly wide of the Czech goal. He went close again on 20 minutes, powering a header wide of AC Sparta Praha keeper Petr Cech's goal.
Midway through the first half the Czech Republic could have taken the lead on the counterattack when the ball deflected off the head of Liverpool FC striker Milan Baros. It seemed to be looping over Landreau, but the France keeper sprang backwards to tip the ball over his crossbar.
The quick feet of Pegguy Luyindula presented Sorlin with a gilt-edged chance to break the deadlock on 38 minutes, but he sent his shot over the crossbar. Any regrets the Rennes frontman harboured did not linger for long, however - two minutes later his side took the lead.
A poor clearance out of defence by David Rozehnal was intercepted by Govou, for whom the path to goal was suddenly clear. The Olympique Lyonnais striker advanced into the area before sliding a right-foot shot into the corner. Rozehnal left the field on a stretcher moments later, but soon returned, giving the impression that he had suffered little more than bruised pride.
On the stroke of half-time France doubled their lead thanks to Luyindula's jinking run. The Lyon youngster cut in from the right wing and zipped past five Czech challenges before Martin Jiranek's sliding block dispossessed him. However, the ball fell into the path of Sorlin, who tucked a first-time effort into the net to atone for his earlier miss.
Tomas Hubschman's crunching tackle on Mathieu Berson five minutes after the break brought the first yellow card of the tournament and it took Petr Vorisek just three minutes to follow his team-mate into the referee's notebook.
That foul on Pierre-Alain Frau presented Steed Malbranque with an opportunity to score direct from a free-kick, but his curling effort was saved by the outstanding Cech, who also blocked fierce efforts from Frau and Berson. By this stage France were in command and should have increased their lead ten minutes from time when Frau positioned himself perfectly to meet a right-wing cross but planted his header over the crossbar.
Beránek's bright side
Their coach Miroslav Beránek was magnanimous in defeat, insisting: "I must congratulate France as they played a really good game. We lost the first game but we have not lost the war." Looking ahead to his side's next Group 2 match, Beránek added: "We have to be ready for our second game against Belgium. We worked very hard to be here, so the most difficult thing will be to psychologically prepare the players now. The French team were better but we will be better prepared for the second game."
Words of caution
Despite France's impressive performance, Domenech had words of caution for his players. "It was just one match and we still have two to go," he said. "Against Greece and Belgium, we must show ourselves as we did today in terms of physical presence, keeping the ball and technical ability."