Neco Williams’ early red card meant Wales had to toil for more than an hour with 10 men as they were beaten 3-0 by France in their first friendly in preparation for Euro 2020.
The visitors’ already daunting task of facing the world champions on their own turf in Nice was made even more onerous when Liverpool youngster Williams was sent off just 25 minutes into the match, after a VAR check deemed his handball had illegally impeded a goal-bound effort from Karim Benzema.
Benzema, making his first international appearance for almost six years, had his penalty saved by Danny Ward, who then did well minutes later to keep out Adrien Rabiot’s deflected shot before Kylian Mbappe scored on the rebound.
Antoine Griezmann curled in a beautiful second goal early into the second half and substitute Ousmane Dembele struck France’s third after Benzema had hit the post.
Wales had been looking for a thorough workout in their first friendly in preparation for Euro 2020, and they certainly got one as they were forced to play 65 minutes a man down against a near full-strength French side.
Interim Wales boss Robert Page was aiming to manage his players’ workloads before their opening fixture against Switzerland on 12 June, meaning important first-team figures such as Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies only appeared as second-half substitutes in Nice.
Despite the gulf in resources between the sides, Wales had acquitted themselves well before Williams’ dismissal, with Daniel James forcing France keeper Hugo Lloris into an early save.
However, as soon as referee Luis Godinho showed Williams a red card after checking video replays on the side of the pitch, Wales faced an almost impossible task.
Ward led the response to that setback by ruining Benzema’s return with a superb save low to his right from the Real Madrid striker’s resulting penalty.
France were already on top and their numerical advantage strengthened their grip on the game to the extent that it felt like a glorified training session at times.
They took the lead in the 35th minute, Ward doing well to save Rabiot’s deflected shot but then powerless as Mbappe followed up to volley in.
When the Paris St-Germain forward’s flick set up Griezmann to score a wonderful second French goal two minutes into the second half, it looked like the game might become an exercise in damage limitation for Wales.
Even in the face of intense French pressure, though, the away side still carried a threat as Juventus midfielder Ramsey offered a reminder of his creativity with a through ball for James, who had another shot saved by Lloris.
France were still eager to add to their lead, with Benzema in particular wanting to mark his return with a goal. Although his fine shot on the turn cannoned off the post, it fell kindly for Dembele to fire into an empty net.
The result will have no bearing on Wales’ fortunes at Euro 2020. The players who remain from their momentous run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals will note that historic campaign was also preceded by a 3-0 friendly defeat, against Sweden in Stockholm.
Williams’ red card and its impact on the contest in Nice will have been frustrating for Page and his players but, with another friendly to come at home against Albania on Saturday – which Williams must sit out before being available again – they know these encounters are mere warm-up exercises for the serious business of tournament football.