France finish off job
Deschamps’ side far from fluent but avoid play-offs for first time since 2005
France clinched qualification for the World Cup thanks to goals from Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud in a hard-fought win over Belarus.
Didier Deschamps’s side successfully completed their tricky challenge of beating Bulgaria and Belarus in their final two qualifiers to ensure they won their group.
The victory meant they avoided the tension of the play-offs that they had to endure to reach the last two World Cup finals.
But although they top Group A, Deschamps’ team were less than convincing at the Stade de France as already eliminated Belarus repeatedly penetrated their rearguard.
“We are happy, even if qualifying is logical given the quality of the players I have,” said Deschamps, who also paid tribute to the French supporters.
“We now have an atmosphere that we haven’t had for a while and people are coming and getting fully behind the team.”
Giroud said he was delighted to have avoided the playoffs.
“We chased this game and it wasn’t easy because they were strong and efficient in attack until the final whistle and we had to roll up our sleeves,” the Arsenal for himself ward said. “We’re all relieved tonight to have ended the campaign with automatic qualification.”
Deschamps started with Atletico Madrid striker Griezmann and the aerial threat of Giroud, and the former eased nerves in the 27th minute, producing a confident low finish from Blaise Matuidi’s smart pass.
Six minutes later, Griezmann intercepted a weak pass out of the Belarus defence from Stanislav Dragun and fed Giroud, who managed to shrug off two defenders to bundle in his 28th international goal from 12 yards out. But the French defensive pairing of Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti and Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane then went to sleep, allowing Belarus to reduce the gap when the lively Anton Saroka swept past Hugo Lloris a minute before half-time.
France had appeared to take their foot off the pedal after news of Netherlands’ commanding lead over second-placed Sweden filtered through and Saroka gave the hosts another jolt when he shot just wide in the 64th minute, but he was narrowly offside.
Paris Saint-Germain starlet Kylian Mbappe was introduced in the second half to inject pace and fresh ideas, but with the seconds ticking down to the final whistle, it was Saroka again who slid a shot just wide from close range.
World at his feet: Olivier Giroud scores what turned out to be the winner for France.