UPDATE 2-Soccer-Debutant Benzema gives France win over Austria

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PARIS, March 28 (Reuters) - Teenage striker Karim Benzema celebrated his international debut with a goal to give France a 1-0 win over Austria in a friendly at the Stade de France on Wednesday.

Olympique Lyon forward Benzema struck from the edge of the box on 53 minutes from a free kick by midfielder Samir Nasri, also winning his first cap.

Benzema and Olympique Marseille’s Nasri, both 19, were two of several youngsters selected by France coach Raymond Domenech for the occasion, four days after a rather dull show in a 1-0 win in Lithuania in a Euro 2008 qualifier.

Domenech’s largely experimental side offered an entertaining display against Austria, Euro 2008’s co-hosts with Switzerland, who have not beaten France since a 1-0 win in 1970.

“It was an interesting performance,” said Domenech. “In matches like these you have to take risks and use the opportunity to build for the future. This confirms we have talented young players at our disposal.”

Austria, who looked brave but limited on a mild evening on the outskirts of Paris, threatened after 10 minutes with an angled effort from captain Andreas Ivanschitz which France goalkeeper Gregory Coupet managed to deflect.

France created their first real chance four minutes later with a header from a corner by defender Julien Escude that midfielder Thomas Prager cleared on the line with his chest.


The home side grew in confidence and Nasri, orchestrating play with calm authority, then showed off his skills with an acrobatic volley that went just wide.

Domenech sent on Benzema for the second half and he needed just eight minutes to score his first goal for France to roars of approval from the crowd.

France, who take a break until Euro 2008 qualifiers against Ukraine and Georgia in early June, stayed on top after that and came close to doubling their advantage through forward Nicolas Anelka and Nasri.

The visitors, relying on a tight defence, resisted in the first half but struggled in the second against opponents with superior pace and skills and were rarely dangerous in front of goal.

“We worked hard and defended well but we showed too little initiative up front,” said Austria defender Martin Stranzl.

“The free kick that led to the goal was invented by the referee,” he added. “It’s a pity. Still, we can build from this.”

Austria no longer belong to the world’s elite and Wednesday’s result is not of major significance but France’s performance did suggest that the former world and European champions have a gifted new generation to rely on in the years to come.