Wales had a ball on their previous visit to France but this trip was not quite so enjoyable. If facing the world champions was not daunting enough, playing more than an hour against them with 10 men was always going to be a gruelling exercise. Didier Deschamps was able to flaunt his embarrassment of riches as Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele earned victory but, as strange as it may sound, Wales will point to plenty of positives.
Neco Williams was – harshly – sent off after 25 minutes and France were subsequently awarded a debatable spot-kick. Despite Karim Benzema failing to score on his return, thanks to a great save from Danny Ward, that dismissal put an entertaining game into France’s grasp. On another night, Benzema could have left the pitch with the match ball.
The spot-kick was awarded after the referee, Luis Godinho, spent a couple of minutes poring over a replay of Benzema’s shot striking the arms of Williams, who was less than a yard away. Benzema had been thwarted in his attempt to poke in from close range after a superb left-handed save by Ward from Paul Pogba’s header dropped kindly and the referee deemed it as deliberate handball, sending Williams off.
Williams had been positive and lively until then, too. He was charged with the task of man-marking Pogba and streamed forward with purpose. On one of those occasions, Williams picked out Daniel James and his shot forced Hugo Lloris into an unconvincing save. Lloris parried the ball and by the time Joe Allen bundled into the six-yard box, Presnel Kimpembe was on hand to clear. Seconds earlier France registered their first meaningful effort, with Ward denying Benzema after the striker glanced Pogba’s cross at goal.
Wales were outnumbered but not overwhelmed. Gareth Bale helped out defensively, flicking Griezmann’s cross to safety and Allen and Joe Morrell slogged away in midfield. France required a slice of luck to take the lead on 34 minutes. Adrien Rabiot’s shot took a wicked deflection off Griezmann and wrong-footed Ward who, falling the wrong way, managed to repel the ball with his left boot. But it looped up and a wired Mbappé feasted on the leftovers, beating Chris Mepham to the rebound before prodding in. Mbappé could have added a second before the interval but blasted over a slick one-touch one-touch move, with Griezmann and Benzema again involved.
If Robert Page was still undecided as to who would be his first-choice goalkeeper at this summer’s tournament, then Ward’s audition in Nice to start against Switzerland next week was a compelling one. Ward, backup to Kasper Schmeichel at Leicester City, has been favoured of late and, while Wayne Hennessey is expected to get minutes in Saturday’s friendly against Albania, those fine first-half saves were a reminder of his credentials.
Wales had every right to feel hard done by, but when France found a second goal three minutes into the second half, they could have no complaints. Mbappé’s exquisite flick eluded Morrell and Griezmann, given time to take aim by Joe Rodon, picked his spot before bending a strike into the far pocket. Now France were purring, Mbappé dancing through challenges.
Page had six substitutions mapped out before kick-off and four arrived in one burst approaching the hour, with Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies among those introduced. Ramsey did not take long to exert his influence, slipping James in on goal. It was a fine pass but James failed to beat an alert Lloris.
If it is any consolation, Wales also lost their final warmup game before Euro 2016, when they reached the semi-finals, 3-0 to Sweden.