Serbia edged a step closer to automatic qualification for next year's World Cup
finals as the Group Seven leaders held nearest challengers France to a stalemate
France recovered from the ninth-minute dismissal of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to
salvage a point as Thierry Henry's effort after half an hour cancelled out Nenad
Milijas' 13th-minute opener from the penalty spot.
Serbia themselves ended the night with 10 men when Danko Lazovic was dismissed
The draw leaves France four points behind Serbia with two matches to play.
The night got off to the worst possible start for the French when they were
reduced to 10 men inside the opening few minutes.
Lloris had already been called into action to divert Gojko Kacar's goalbound
effort for a corner in the fifth minute but the Lyon custodian went from hero to
zero moments later when he felled Milan Jovanovic in the area.
As the last man, referee Roberto Rosetti had no hesitation in handing Lloris
his marching orders, forcing France coach Raymond Domenech into a frantic
Andre Pierre Gignac was the unfortunate outfield player to make way for
substitute goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, whose first action was to pick the ball
out of the net as Milijas powerfully converted the spot-kick.
Despite finding themselves a man down, the French remained more than a match
for the Serbians, who were perhaps feeling the pressure with qualification for
next year's finals now firmly in their grasp.
Bordeaux midfielder Yoann Gourcuff was busy in the middle of the park for the
visitors and almost pulled his side level after 25 minutes with a drilled effort
from 25 yards which flew just wide of the target.
French pressure was rewarded after 31 minutes, however, as Barcelona striker
Henry fired home.
Nicolas Anelka created the opening with a fierce long-range effort which was
only parried by Vladimir Stojkovic in the Serbia goal, allowing Henry to follow
up with an effort into the bottom-right corner.
Serbia skipper Dejan Stankovic tried to lift his deflated team-mates and tried
to force a breakthrough with a powerful effort after 39 minutes which was
blocked by Eric Abidal, while a minute later Anelka went close at the other end
with a shot from the edge of the area that cleared Stojkovic's crossbar.
The busy Abidal again underlined the commitment of the French players with
another block from a Jovanovic effort three minutes after the restart while
seconds later Branislav Ivanovic fired wide from distance as the hosts began to
turn the screw.
Anelka had another sighter for the French after 53 minutes but Ivanovic lit up
the Red Star stadium moments later with a superb effort from the edge of the box
which drew an equally impressive parry from Mandanda.
A minute later the back-up goalkeeper had to be alert again as he held a headed
effort from giant striker Nikola Zigic.
Milos Ninkovic came close after 66 minutes as the hosts continued to press
although further efforts by Henry and Gourcuff indicated that France were not
going to settle for a point.
Ninkovic's 82nd-minute cross found its way to Zigic, who should have done
better than fire tamely at Mandanda from inside the six-yard box.
Serbia's numerical advantage evaporated in the final minute when Lazovic
received a straight red for a heavy challenge on Bacary Sagna, while France's
Patrice Evra spurned the last chance of the match in stoppage time as both sides
settled for a point.