SENDAI (FIBA World Championship) - A third quarter resurgence enabled France to save face and win 81-61 against Venezuela to reach the second round a night after an embarrassing loss to Lebanon.
With the win, France finished second in their group and will play Angola in the second round knockout stages.
"That will be a very tough game for us," France head coach Claude Bergeaud said after the game. "They are a very good team, play with a lot of energy and they are a great three-point shooting team."
And three-point shooting has not been a strongpoint of France's offense over the last two games. After shooting three of 26 from behind the arc yesterday, they weren't much better today going three for 22.
But Les Bleus started playing their suffocating style of defense - something which was lacking against Lebanon - and were able to get their running game going, leading to easy baskets, including several spectacular dunks.
France came out strong and raced out to a 22-8 lead behind the solid play of Frederic Weis and Florient Pietrus who scored inside early and often.
However, Boris Diaw had to sit down with two fouls, and in his absence the team then conceded a 9-2 run that saw Venezuela only seven points adrift at the end of the first quarter.
Nestor Salazar's men closed within four, 24-20, early in the second period before the Pietrus brothers - Mickael and Florient - and Ronny Turiaf gave France a much needed lift to regain a seven point lead, 36-29.
Diaw checked back into the game and scored France's last five points of the half for a 41-31 advantage going into the locker room.
Venezuela got close once again in the early stages of the third quarter, with Tomas Aguilera's three-pointer cutting the lead in half, 41-36 before Les Bleus played like they did at the start of the game, moving the ball around and finding easy scoring opportunities.
Mickael Pietrus made a three-point play and on the next possession set his brother Florent up for an emphatic dunk and all of a sudden France had their biggest lead of the game at 52-37.
And with some great ball movement, they extended that lead further as Frederic Weis made a skyhook before finding point guard Aymeric Jeanneau wide open in the left corner for a three-point shot - the first France made after missing on all 13 first half attempts.
But Venezuela launched a final assault with Alejandro Barrios leading the way, scoring eight straight points over the end of the third quarter and the start of the final period. Carlos Cedeno made a lay up that got the South American nation's deficit down to 14, 66-52.
Bergeaud's men didn't flinch and responded with a 15-7 run to end the game.
Florent Pietrus led the way with 19 points - including several high-flying dunks - and eight rebounds and Boris Diaw chipped in with 11.
Barrios finished as the top scorer for Venezuela with 15 points.
After the game, Salazara said he was proud of his team's overall effort.
"We did the best we could - not only today but throughout the tournament. We were lacking that little extra something, but we have to be happy enough with the effort that we gave."
Bergeaud emphasised that his team was better today because it was ready to play.
"We are happy to qualify in second place and meet the objective we set ourselves before the tournament. Tonight we respected Venezuela and came ready to play to the best of our ability. We had focused on doing well on the first two games of the tournament so much that we came into the second phase of the group stages a bit too relaxed."
"We showed tonight that we need a point guard and a center in order to play well. We didn't have that yesterday as Aymeric was out injured."
Jeanneau assured that he had fully recovered from the leg injury that kept him out of the loss to Lebanon and he would be ready for the game against Angola.
"My leg feels fine. I don't have any pain there anymore and I will be ready to play in the second round. I think the difference today was that we were a lot more energetic."
And energy was important as France once again struggled with their perimeter shooting, much to the bemusement of Bergeaud.
"I have no idea why we can't make outside shots during the game. We make them in training. It really has me flabbergasted because it's something I've never seen before in my life as a coach. It's not a problem with the shooting form of the players. It's to do with confidence."
"We will need to find our shooting rhythm for our game against Angola or else it will be a very quick game."
By Simon Wilkinson