Euro 2016 runners-up France, with a side containing some of their biggest names, were held to a lacklustre 0-0 draw by African champions Ivory Coast in a friendly at Lens’s Stade Bollaert on Tuesday.
After Friday’s 2-1 win over Sweden in a World Cup qualifier, France coach Didier Deschamps made seven changes, handing Paris St Germain midfielder Adrien Rabiot and Rennes goalkeeper Benoit Costil their first caps, but included Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Dimitri Payet in the starting XI.
France (4-3-3): Costil; Digne, Rami, Varane (Koscielny 46), Sidibe (Corchia 69); Kante, Pogba (Fekir 46), Rabiot (Lemar 78); Dembele (Sissoko 46), Payet, Gameiro (Giroud 63)
Unused Subs: Lloris, Mandanda, Evra, Mangala, Matuidi
Ivory Coast (4-2-3-1): Gbohouo; Aurier, Kone, Kanon, Traore; Doukoure (Diomande 68), Kessie; Kalou, Gradel (Pepe 86), Die (Angban 86); Kodjia (Sio 68)
Unused Subs: Sayouba, Sangare, Eboue, Kouassi, N’Guessan Yao, Deli, Bagayoko
Booked: Die 4
Referee: Radu Petrescu (Romania)
Highly rated Borussia Dortmund teenager Ousmane Dembele was also named in the starting line-up, but was hooked off at half-time – along with Pogba – after failing to impress.
With forward Antoine Griezmann ruled out due to a foot injury, Les Bleus struggled to get into their stride as the game failed to ignite on a cold evening in northern France.
Ivory Coast had the best chance in the 11th minute when Adama Traore’s 22-yard half-volley clattered Costil’s post and Salomon Kalou, following up, poked the ball into the net but saw it disallowed for offside.
France’s best opportunity in the first half came six minutes before the break when N’Golo Kante’s fierce strike was blocked by goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo.
Moussa Sissoko also had a good chance after the interval but his header from Lucas Digne’s cross went just wide.
Eight days before PSG’s potential Champions League Group A decider at Arsenal, Rabiot limped off with a suspected muscle injury in the 77th minute.
The impressive Costil then made a superb save to deny Nicolas Pepe from point-blank range in the last minute.
The match was the final France game in an up-and-down year for the French who reached the final of their home Euro 2016 tournament, but were beaten by Portugal – their only defeat in the entire calendar year.
Despite their good record for 2016, France were booed at the end of the match, with the crowd obviously disappointed with the performance.
Manager Didier Deschamps said: ‘We struggled, that’s not what I want to remember from 2016.
‘We could have won that game but we could have lost it. We made too many errors, especially in the second half.’
He also said Rabiot has a thigh injury, but did not elaborate on its seriousness.
France, who lead World Cup qualifying Group A by three points, next visit Luxembourg on March 25 when the battle to reach the 2018 finals in Russia resumes.
Ivory Coast meanwhile are top of African qualifying Group C, with four points from two games.