Payet shines as France beat Sweden
France midfielder Dimitri Payet scored the winner after setting up the equaliser in a 2-1 victory over Sweden in a top-of-the-table clash as they opened up a three-point lead in World Cup qualifying Group A at the Stade de France on Friday.
The visitors went ahead in the 54th minute through Emil Forsberg before Paul Pogba and Payet hit back with goals in the 58th and 65th minutes respectively to put France on 10 points ahead of Sweden after four games.
The Netherlands, who travel to Luxembourg on Sunday, are in third place on four points.
A minute’s silence was held before kickoff to mark the first anniversary of the Paris attacks that killed 130 people on Friday Nov. 13 when bars, restaurants and the stadium where Les Bleus were playing a friendly against Germany were targeted.
French president Francois Hollande, who was also at the France v Germany game last year, attended Friday’s match along with invited presidents of the French Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs.
“We have to remember. One year ago, almost to the day, we were here for a friendly game and three bombs were detonated, with one man being killed,” Hollande told French TV.
“We have to remember there were 130 people who died and hundreds of others who were injured. For them and for those who survived we must remember.”
Security was tight, with some 1,200 stewards and 400 police officers deployed in and around the stadium but there were no incidents reported.
Sweden, who lost their backbone after goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson, midfielder Kim Kallstrom and talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic all retired from international football, still proved a tough nut to crack.
France pressed high, leaving little breathing space for the Swedes, who looked dangerous on set pieces.
Les Bleus had their first clear chance in the 15th minute when Payet’s curled shot was parried away by Robin Olsen.
However, after a lively opening 20 minutes, France faded while Sweden grew into the game, threatening with a couple of sharp counter attacks.
The visitors went ahead nine minutes into the second half, when Forsberg’s 25metre free kick flew past keeper Hugo Lloris. France reacted swiftly, however, with Pogba heading home from Payet’s free kick four minutes later. In the 65th, Olsen fumbled a cross into the path of Payet, who coolly turned the ball home to give France the points. Sweden next face Belarus on March 25 when France, who host Ivory Coast in a friendly on Tuesday, visit Luxembourg.— Reuters
SAINT-DENIS: French President Francois Hollande (L) shakes hands with the newly elected president of the French Professionnal Football League Nathalie Boy De La Tour (R) during the 2018 World Cup group A qualifying football match between France and Sweden at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on Friday. — AFP